Service Animal Laws in New Jersey

Man’s best friend, along with many other furry companions, are capable of some pretty incredible things. Besides offering us comfort and bringing us joy, they can also be trained to help disabled people perform daily tasks and navigate daily life a little more easily. These specially-trained, four-legged friends of ours are called service animals, and they’re usually allowed in most public places without issue.

The Garden State is no exception; between federal and state laws, disabled New Jersey residents can enjoy the freedom of having their service animal accompany them at home, in public, and even at work. However, those considering getting a service animal should know a little bit about the specifics of these federal and state laws, as they’ll better understand where and when they can exercise their protected rights.

To start, let’s talk about the similarities and differences between federal and New Jersey State definitions of service animals.

How New Jersey Defines Service Animals

Federal and New Jersey State definitions of service animals overlap pretty heavily. For starters, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as “A dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Following this, a service dog must be trained to do work or perform tasks and duties that are specific to their owner’s disability.

Under the ADA’s definition, service animals can include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and hearing-impaired, allergen detection dogs, alert dogs that can notify their owner of an oncoming seizure or anxiety attack, and mobility dogs that push wheelchairs and can perform rescue work.

In special circumstances, miniature horses may also qualify under the ADA’s definition of a service animal. However, public accommodations and facilities are not automatically required to accommodate them because of the miniature horse’s weight, size, and its owner’s ability to keep it under control in public. Therefore, the permittance of service miniature horses onto public premises are case-by-case situations, and ultimately at the discretion of the public accommodation or facility in question.

The New Jersey definition, on the other hand, defines service animals as “Any dog individually trained to the requirements of a person with a disability.” As you can see, this definition is a bit blurrier than the ADA’s. It encompasses service dogs for physical, mental, intellectual, developmental, and psychological disabilities, making it much more inclusive than other states. However, this definition excludes emotional support animals, which is typically the case in many other states as well.

Emotional support animals share some key similarities with service animals. For starters, they can help alleviate emotional distress by offering support or comfort to those suffering from mental, emotional, or psychological impairments. Unlike service animals, though, they do not receive any special training to perform these tasks or duties, which is why they’re often not protected under most state’s service animal laws.

Let’s explore the specifics of service animal laws in the context of housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Service Animal Housing Laws in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protects disabled people from discrimination on the basis of their disability when buying, selling, renting, leasing, or subletting a property; this also includes disabled owners of service dogs. To illustrate a practical application of these protections, landlords and other housing facilities cannot charge disabled owners of service dogs standard animal housing fees, instead waiving them so that the tenant can have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home.

However, disabled tenants with service dogs should note that they will likely be held liable in the event of their service dog damaging the property or hurting someone else on the premises. In these cases, federal and state protections will not apply.

On the federal level, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) offers these same protections to disabled people. However, one key difference here is that FHA protections extend to emotional support animals as well, meaning landlords cannot charge those with emotional support animals the standard animal housing fee. To qualify, though, you must have a documented disability and a disability-related need for your emotional support animal. This means your emotional support animal must do work or perform tasks and duties specific to your disability. In the case of emotional support animals, they must be able to alleviate the negative effects of their owner’s emotional or psychological disorder.

Service Animal Employment Laws in New Jersey

The ADA also outlines rules for employers with disabled employees that require their service dog on the job with them. These federal employment provisions state that covered employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for their disabled employees, and oftentimes these reasonable accommodations translate to disabled employees bringing their service dogs to work with them.

However, an employer may refuse to let their disabled employee bring their service dog with them if it places “undue hardship” on business operations. An example is a disabled employee’s request to bring their service dog to work that may be denied if the animal places a significant financial strain on the business, or if it consistently disrupts most of the other employees and/or patrons.

What’s more, disabled employees can’t just show up to work with their service dog without first filing a request with their employer. This request can be submitted either orally or in written form, although the latter is highly recommended for records purposes.

In addition to the oral or written request, disabled employees will also most likely have to furnish official documents verifying their disability. They’ll also need to provide documentation outlining the specific tasks and duties the service dog can perform in relation to its owner’s disability.

Employers will also need to allow their disabled employees with service dogs on the job enough flexibility to care for the animal throughout the day, whether it’s taking the time to feed it or to let it out to relieve itself.

Public Accommodations Laws in New Jersey

Both the ADA and LAD define public accommodations pretty broadly. Whereas the LAD’s definition also extends to places like pool halls, meeting halls, amusement parks, and arenas, the ADA’s definition includes places such as:

  • Educational institutions
  • Hotels and other lodging establishments
  • Public transportation and terminals, stations, and depots
  • Social service centers, including senior centers, food banks, and homeless shelters
  • Exercise and recreational facilities, including gyms, bowling alleys, parks, and zoos
  • Places where items are collected and displayed for public enjoyment or perusal, including museums and libraries
  • Places of entertainment and exhibit, including sports stadiums and theaters
  • Places of public gathering, including convention centers and and auditoriums
  • Restaurants and other establishments that sell food and/or beverages
  • Commercial and rental establishments
  • Service establishments

In reality, there are few to no places disabled New Jersey residents can take their service dogs with them. However, the ADA states that a disabled person and their service dog may be asked to leave the premises if the animal is posing a direct threat to public health and/or safety. An example of this is if the service dog is snapping or aggressively barking at other customers, thereby creating a significant public disruption.

What’s more, the LAD’s public accommodations protections do come with a few conditions. The disabled person must be in custody of their service dog at all times, they are required to pay for any damages their service dog incurs on the premises, and they cannot be charged an additional fee for having their service dog with them.
young woman in wheelchair with service dog

How to Register Your Service Animal

To register your service animal on USAA, click here. For a little under $80, you’ll receive:

  • Lifetime registration for your service animal in the United States’ largest service animal database
  • A Service Animal Registration Photo ID Card
  • A Registration Certificate for your service animal
  • Digital copies of your Registration Certificate, immediately available for download
  • The option to order a vest for your service animal
  • Full, 24/7 access to our legal team and support staff

You’ll also get a small card outlining these service animal laws and your rights, so that you can present it when asked by public accommodations or facilities about the legality of your service animal.

However, please keep in mind that registering your service animal on USAA will not afford you any additional rights that are not already provided by the ADA and New Jersey state law.

One Last Word on These Incredible Animal Aids

Thanks to these federal and state laws, disabled owners of service dogs can enjoy the same functionality and freedom as able-bodied people. As always, thanks for reading, and we hope you learned something new that you might be able to put to practical use someday.