South Carolina Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

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

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

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 all places that are open to the public, including:

  • stores
  • theaters
  • restaurants,
  • motels and hotels.

Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered by South Carolina and federal law and which animals qualify as service animals. We'll also go over some rules you might need to follow when you have your service animal in a public place.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in South Carolina?

Under South Carolina law, assistance dogs must be allowed in all of the following:

  • 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
    • other types of public transport, and
  • all places to which the public is invited.

The ADA defines "public accommodations" very broadly as well. It includes:

  • lodging establishments
  • public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • sales or rental establishments
  • service establishments, like banks and laundromats
  • 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. Even religious entities that offer secular services, such as a daycare center that admits children who aren't affiliated with the religious institution, don't count as public accommodations under the ADA.

Private clubs also aren't covered by the ADA, but only if they meet the specific criteria. To be exempt, the club must:

  • be member-controlled
  • be a nonprofit group
  • be highly selective in its membership
  • charge substantial membership fees, and
  • not have been created to avoid compliance with civil rights laws.

But a private club that makes facilities available to nonmembers is subject to the ADA's public accommodation rules in those facilities.

(Different federal laws protect your rights when you travel on commercial airlines. Learn more about flying with your service dog.)

Which Animals Are Covered Under These Laws in South Carolina?

Both the ADA and South Carolina law limit a service animal to a dog or miniature horse that's trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Under both laws, the tasks your service animal performs must be directly related to your disability.

How the ADA Defines Service Animal

The kinds 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 might also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know if foods or other substances that could be dangerous are present (such as peanuts).

How South Carolina Defines Service Animal

South Carolina's disability rights law defines a "service animal" similarly to the ADA. The law requires that a service animal be trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with one or more of the following types of disabilities:

  • physical
  • sensory
  • psychiatric
  • intellectual, or
  • other mental disability.

Under "Layla's Law," which protects service animals and guide dogs from abuse in South Carolina, a service animal can be any of those described above. Additionally, this state law says the work a service animal does or tasks it performs can also include the following:

  • pulling a wheelchair
  • retrieving objects
  • providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability
  • reminding an individual with a mental illness to take prescribed medications
  • calming an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack, and
  • doing other specific work or performing other special tasks.

The state's public accommodation law is a bit more vague. It gives "handicapped" people the right to bring trained "assistance dogs" into any public accommodation. But the law doesn't specifically define the term "assistance dog."

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—the same definition used by the ADA.

What Does South Carolina Law Say About Emotional Support Animals?

Neither the ADA nor South Carolina's public accommodation law covers emotional support animals (ESAs). Emotional support animals provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions.

Although ESAs often have therapeutic benefits, they aren't individually trained to assist a person with a disability, so they don't fit the definition of service animals under South Carolina law or the ADA. But the Fair Housing Act (see below) does provide protections for emotional support animals.

Learn more about the differences in how the law treats emotional support animals vs. psychiatric service dogs.

Rules for Service Animals in South Carolina

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. (But you might have to pay for any damage your animal causes.)

Under the ADA, a public accommodation can't ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal's training or status. If what your service animal does isn't apparent, the establishment can ask you only whether it's 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. For example, the facility can kick your dog out if the 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 or unwilling to get it under control. And you're still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal isn't allowed in.

Housing Laws Covering Your Service Animal or ESA in South Carolina

Like its public accommodations law, South Carolina's housing law protects "handicapped" people (those with a substantially limiting physical or mental impairment) who have "assistance dogs." Landlords must allow you to have an assistance dog and can't charge you an additional fee. But the law doesn't define "assistance dogs," so it may not cover emotional support animals.

But the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals (sometimes referred to as "assistance animals"). And the FHA definition of assistance animals includes both service dogs and emotional support animals. Under the FHA:

  • you must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities
  • you can't be charged extra for having a service animal (but you might have to pay for damage your animal causes), and
  • if your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your assistance animal.

The FHA requires housing facilities to allow "assistance animals" if the animal is necessary for someone with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. For your emotional support animal to fall under FHA protection, you must have both of the following:

  • a disability, and
  • a disability-related need for the animal.

In other words, to qualify, your animal must perform tasks or services or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.)

Updated July 3, 2023

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