South Carolina Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

South Carolina law allows physical and mental assistance dogs into housing and all public places.

Under South Carolina’s disability rights 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. 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 South Carolina?

Under South Carolina law, assistance dogs must be allowed in all hotels and other lodging places; all places of public amusement, resort, or accommodation; all common carriers, types of transportation, and public conveyances (including buses, taxis, trains, boats, and so on); and all 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 terminals, depots, and 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.

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 Under These Laws in South Carolina?

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. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms and doorbells
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired get around safely
  • psychiatric service animals, which can help their handlers by interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during 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).

The ADA does not cover 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.

South Carolina’s disability rights law does not define the term “assistance dogs," but it gives “handicapped” people the right to bring assistance dogs into any of the public accommodations listed above. The South Carolina Code says elsewhere that wherever the term “handicapped” appears in the law, it should be interpreted to mean a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. (This is also the definition used by the ADA.) However,

Rules for Your Service Animal

South Carolina law and the ADA 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.

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 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.

Service Animals in South Carolina Housing

Like its public accommodations law, South Carolina’s housing law protects “handicapped” people (those with a substantially limiting physical or mental impairment) with assistance dogs. Landlords who rent or lease out property must allow assistance dogs without any additional fee. However, the dog’s owner is responsible for any damage the dog 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.)

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