North Carolina Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

North Carolina law and federal law protect your right to have service dogs in public places and housing.

Under North Carolina law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," such as restaurants, museums, hotels, and stores. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.

Public accommodations in North Carolina must comply with both state and federal law, and their patrons are entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and more.

What Is Considered a Service Animal in North Carolina?

North Carolina law on public accommodations refers to service animals, but doesn’t define which animals qualify. However, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has created a brochure for businesses regarding customers with service animals, which uses the ADA’s definition. Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal under the ADA.) The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Examples of service animals include a guide dog that assists a blind or visually impaired person in navigating safely; a hearing animal that alerts someone who is deaf or has impaired hearing to important sounds, such as sirens, doorbells, ringtones, and so on; an animal that pulls a wheelchair, pushes elevator buttons, retrieves items, or offers stability and support for someone with mobility restrictions; or a psychiatric service animal that scans for safety threats or interrupts someone from acting in a dangerous or self-destructive way.

Neither law covers what some call “emotional support animals”: 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 are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and North Carolina law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals. These laws also don’t apply to pets.

Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals

Under North Carolina law, people with disabilities may bring their service animals to hotels and other lodging places, to all places of accommodation, amusement, or resort, on any form of public transportation, including buses and airlines, and all other places to which the public is invited.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very broad. It includes:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • sales or rental establishments
  • service establishments
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
  • places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
  • gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
  • recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
  • libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
  • educational institutions, and
  • social service centers.

Rules for Your Service Animal in North Carolina

North Carolina law says that you qualify for these rights by either displaying a tag, issued by the state Health and Human Services Department, stating that you have registered your animal as a service animal, or by showing that the animal has been or is being trained to act as a service animal. You can find the application form for this registration at the Department of Health and Human Services’ website. You aren’t required to get this registration.

An establishment may not ask you detailed questions about your disability or your animal. However, the establishment may ask if your animal is a service animal, and which tasks the animal is trained to perform.

You cannot be charged extra to bring your service dog to any public accommodation. However, you can be required to pay for any damage your dog causes.

A public accommodation is not required to allow your service animal to remain if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. If, for example, your service dog is growling and lunging at other patrons, and you are unable to stop the behavior, the dog might have to leave. An establishment may also exclude a service dog that isn’t housebroken or is out of control.

Service Animals in North Carolina Housing

Under North Carolina’s service animal law, people with disabilities who use service animals are entitled to have those animals with them on any premises they lease, rent, or use. A landlord may not require you to pay extra to have a service animal, although you are liable for any damages your service animal causes to the property or to another person.

The federal Fair Housing Act requires housing facilities to 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.)

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