Under Minnesota law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. Minnesota law covers people with only certain disabilities, however, while the ADA is more inclusive. In practical terms, this should not affect people with service dogs as businesses and other public accommodations in Minnesota must comply with both state and federal law. Read on to learn which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been 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 the person's disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Minnesota's Human Rights Act adopts the ADA's definition of service animals, BUT it restricts its coverage to those who are blind, deaf, or have a physical or sensory disability. This limit appears to exclude those who use service animals for a psychiatric or mental disability. Minnesota businesses still must comply with the ADA, however.
Neither the ADA nor Minnesota's equal rights law covers what some people call "emotional support animals": animals whose presence provides a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.
Minnesota gives people with certain disabilities the right to bring their service animals into all public accommodations, including all streets, highways, sidewalks, and walkways; all public buildings, facilities, and places; all common carriers and modes of transportation (including buses, trains, boats, and so on); all hotels and lodging places; all places of public resort, amusement, or accommodation; and any other place to which the public is invited.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very comprehensive, including all places to which the public is invited. However, religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA's public accommodation rules as to those facilities.
Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal's training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you.
The ADA and Minnesota law 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. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it. Minnesota law states that service animals must be properly leashed or harnessed so their handlers may control them.
Minnesota law prohibits housing discrimination against those with disabilities. Those who are blind, deaf, or have other physical or sensory disabilities must be allowed to live with their service animals. However, it must be possible to identify your dog as trained by a recognized training program. And although you can't be required to pay extra to have your service dog, you may have to pay for any damage it causes.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it does not apply to your service animal.
Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if 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 you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.)