Rhode Island Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Rhode Islanders have right to have service animals or "personal assistance dogs" in housing and public places.

Under Rhode Island’s human rights laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals (or "personal assistance dogs") in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other public accommodations. Public accommodations in Rhode Island must comply with both state and federal law. Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, people with disabilities may be accompanied by their qualified service animals on all public conveyances (forms of transportation, including buses, taxis, trains, and so on), stations and terminals; all educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities; and all places of public resort, assembly, amusement, or accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, and any other place to which the public is invited.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes hotels, motels, public transportation, restaurants, stores, auditoriums, gyms, zoos, parks, libraries, museums, schools, social service centers, and more.

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.

Which Animals Are Covered in Rhode Island?

Under Rhode Island’s human rights law, public accommodations must allow you to be accompanied by your personal assistance animal. A personal assistance animal is a dog that has been trained (or is in the process of being trained) as a:

  • guide dog specially trained to aid a particular person who is blind or visually impaired
  • hearing dog specially trained to aid a particular person who is deaf or hearing impaired, or
  • service dog specially trained to aid a particular person with another type of disability.

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. In addition to guide dogs and hearing dogs, here are some examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA:

  • psychiatric service animals, which help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by, for example, interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during anxiety or panic attacks
  • seizure alert animals, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

Neither the ADA nor Rhode Island’s human 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 their handlers, nor are they specially trained to assist a particular person.

Rules for Your Service Animal

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 Rhode Island 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. You are still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal is not allowed in.

Assistance Dogs and Service Animals in Rhode Island Housing

Under Rhode Island’s fair housing act, you must be allowed full and equal access to all housing with your personal assistive animal. For purposes of this housing discrimination law, a “personal assistive animal” is one specifically trained by a certified animal training program to assist someone who has a disability with tasks of independent living. As under the ADA, you can’t be charged an extra fee or deposit, but you can be required to pay for damage done by your animal.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use any type of service animal. 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.)

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