Under Massachusetts's disability rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities can bring their service dogs to all "public accommodations," such as:
But the ADA and Massachusetts's disability rights law don't apply to any of the following:
State and federal housing laws in Massachusetts do cover having an emotional support animal or a service dog in your home, however (more on this below).
This article will discuss which animals qualify as service animals in Massachusetts and which places must allow them. We'll also look at the rules for having your service animal in public.
Massachusetts's disability rights law requires public accommodations to allow people who are blind, deaf, or otherwise have a physical disability to be accompanied by a "dog guide." The law doesn't explain what a dog guide is or what tasks it must be capable of.
But under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog (or sometimes a miniature horse) that's been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to a disability.
Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
The state law is more limited than the ADA, but public accommodations in Massachusetts must comply with both state and federal laws.
Neither the ADA nor Massachusetts's service animal law covers emotional support animals. ESAs are animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they're not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. As a result, owners of public accommodations aren't required to admit emotional support animals—only service animals or dog guides.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is expansive. It includes:
The Massachusetts definition of public accommodation is similarly broad. Many categories of establishments are listed, as well as any place that's open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the public. The law also includes public conveyances like buses and taxis.
(Learn about the federal law that governs flying with your service animal or ESA.)
Under the ADA, when you bring your service animal to a public accommodation, you can't be questioned about your disability or required to show certification, identification, or other proof of your animal's training or status. If it isn't apparent what your service animal does, the establishment can ask you only whether it's a service animal and what tasks it performs for you.
The ADA and Massachusetts law both prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. But you'll probably have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA also allows for your service animal to be excluded from a public place if it poses a direct threat to health and safety. For example, a facility can kick the dog out if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers. Your animal can also be excluded if it's not housebroken or it's out of control, and you're unable to effectively control it.
Both the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Massachusetts law prohibit discrimination in rental housing against people with disabilities, including those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and your landlord can't charge you extra for having an assistance animal.
In Massachusetts, the housing discrimination law specifically references only dog guides used by people who are blind or deaf. However, the law also requires landlords and other housing entities to make reasonable accommodations that allow people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common spaces. This could include accommodating your emotional support animal.
But either way, under the FHA, housing facilities must allow "assistance animals," which includes both service dogs and ESAs, if having the animal is necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. To qualify, the animal must simply alleviate the emotional effects of your disability.
Under both state and federal housing laws, if your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your service animal or ESA. But you could be required to pay for any damage your animal causes.
(For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on assistance animals.)
Updated June 30, 2023