The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued new guidance on July 13, 2015 regarding the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to service animals. The new guidance underscores the DOJ’s 2010 revisions to the ADA regarding which animals qualify as service animals and permissible lines of inquiry about tasks the service animal performs.

Some of the discussion in the guidance is targeted specifically at business entities. For example, the guidance addresses whether hotels may assign designated rooms for guests with service animals or charge a cleaning fee for guests who have a service animal. The guidance discusses instances where an individual may bring more than one service animal into an establishment, the questions that may be asked about the service animals, and when limitations may be placed on the number of services animals that are permitted to remain in an establishment. The guidance also addresses when the presence of a service animal may fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program provided to the public and health and safety issues, including the presence of service animals in hospital rooms and swimming pools.

The DOJ’s new guidance also includes new information to clarify some of the questions that business entities have raised regarding service animals. The guidance discusses the distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals, and confirms that comfort animals are not automatically excluded from the definition of service animals. The DOJ also addresses service animals in training, requirements regarding the training and certification of service animals, and the use of identification tags.

The DOJ’s new guidance illustrates the increasing complexities that exist with regard to the presence of service and assistance animals in areas open to the public. Yet, at the same time, the DOJ continues with actions against companies for alleged non-compliance. For additional discussion on the topic see the DOJ's article "Department of Justice Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit Alleging Discriminatory Assistance Animal Policy at Largest Cooperative Development in the United States". Business entities are advised to review existing policies and requirements related to service animals to ensure continued compliance with the ADA.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Housing and Real Estate and Construction Litigation Groups regularly counsel clients on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have experience drafting policies related to services and accommodations for the disabled. For additional information, please contact Olabisi "Bisi" Okubadejo at 410.528.5532 or okubadejoo@ballardspahr.com.


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