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Kokua Line: Hotels should not charge additional fees to guests who have service dogs

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - 1/19/2020

Jan. 19--Question : After a "staycation " the hotel charged me an extra fee for my service dog, for cleaning, they said. It wasn't an extraordinary amount, but it was humiliating because it implied that my helper caused damage when there was none. We had cleaned up after him immediately whenever he did his business, outside. ... I wish I had made a fuss, but I paid it. Now I am wondering, should that even have been allowed ?

Answer : No, not if the hotel knew your dog was a service animal trained to assist you with a disability--not a pet--and the dog did no damage.

Hotels aren't allowed to charge guests extra for vacuuming up hair or dander shed by a service dog, for example, according to the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

However, they can charge for damage the dog causes to the room or grounds, as long as other guests would be charged the same fee for the same level of damage. Disabled people using serv ­ice dogs can't be singled out for damage the facility would otherwise let slide.

Hotels that allow pets may charge guests who bring them an extra fee, sometimes called a sanitation fee, but that wouldn't apply to service animals, which aren't considered pets, under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

Moreover, hotels can't relegate disabled guests with service dogs to rooms in a certain section of the property ; such guests must be free to reserve any room that any guest could.

At the hotel, a service dog is allowed anywhere its handler goes, such as restaurants or gyms, with limits. "The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go, " according to the Disability Rights Section.

The service dog must remain under physical or voice control of its handler at all times. The dog can't be left alone in the hotel room.

All these requirements point to the fact that the ADA recognizes service dogs as assistants that allow disabled people to participate in everyday life. Government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations must reasonably modify their usual policies and practices to accommodate them.

The dog is not entitled to special treatment beyond accompanying its handler. For example, the hotel doesn't have to let the dog sleep in the handler's bed--unless the work it does for the disabled person requires that--or be seated anywhere other than the floor of a restaurant.

As Kokua Line has stated before, service animals are defined narrowly under the federal law.

A service animal is a dog or, rarely, a miniature horse, trained to perform specific tasks to aid a disabled person, according to the Disability Rights Section.

A service dog doesn't have to wear a special vest, or require a license beyond a regular dog tag. If the animal's job is not obvious, a hotel staffer or employee of another covered entity may ask the handler only two questions : Is this animal required because of a disabilityWhat work or task has this animal been trained to perform ?

A service dog can be excluded from the premises if its presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the business ; it poses a legitimate safety risk ; its handler can't keep it under control ; or it is not housebroken.

It's important to emphasize that the ADA distinguishes between psychiatric service dogs and emotional-­support animals. For example, if a dog has been trained to sense when its handler is anxious and takes specific action to avert a panic attack, it would qualify as a service dog.

But if the dog's mere presence comforts the person, it would not.

The latter would be considered an assistance animal, and could live with its disabled owner under fair-housing laws that override residential "no pets " policies. But it would not be considered a service animal granted broad public accommodation at hotels, stores and other establishments under the ADA.------Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813 ; call 529-4773 ; fax 529-4750 ; or email kokualine @staradvertiser.com.------

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