Service Animal Misrepresentation

8/15/2019

Overview

If you’ve ever visited a coffee shop, eaten at a restaurant or flown on a plane, you’ve likely encountered a working service animal.

Each year, thousands of people with disabilities rely on service animals to assist with activities that would otherwise be difficult or not possible. These range from the completion of everyday tasks, such as opening doors and retrieving items, to more serious interventions like seizure or low blood sugar detection.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are not required to wear a vest, ID tag, harness or other identifier. In situations where it is not readily apparent that an animal is a service animal, places of public accommodation covered under the ADA may ask these two questions of the animal’s handler: (1) Is the service animal required because of a disability? (2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the animal, require that the animal demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

The lack of a uniform standard for service animal certification across the country coupled with the widespread availability of service animal harnesses, tags and vests online have left many states grappling with the issue of service animal fraud—instances in which a person misrepresents their pet as a service animal to gain access to places of public accommodation.

To date, 23 states have enacted legislation prohibiting the willful misrepresentation of a service animal or service animal-in-training, with most violations punishable by a fine or misdemeanor. Ten additional states—California, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia—also have service animal misrepresentation prohibitions written in state statute. A table of enacted legislation is listed below.

Enacted Legislation Related to Service Animals
State Bill Number  Year Enacted Summary
Alabama HB 198 2018 Establishes a $500 penalty for the first and second offense of willful service animal misrepresentation.
Alabama SB 10 2019

Establishes a Class C misdemeanor penalty and 30-hour community service requirement for the willful misrepresentation of a service animal or service animal trainer.

Arizona HB 2588 2018

Establishes a $250 civil penalty for the misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal to a person or entity that operates a place of public accommodation.

Arkansas SB 654 2019

Establishes a $250 civil penalty for the misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal to a person or entity that operates a place of public accommodation.

Colorado HB 1426 2016 Defines the misrepresentation of a service animal as a crime and establishes fines for first, second and third offenses.
Florida HB 71 2015

Provides for a midemeanor penalty for knowing and willful misrepresentation with respect to the use or training of a service animal.

Hawaii SB 2461 2018

Establishes the offense of "misrepresentation of a service animal.” Provides monetary penalties for the first, second and each violation thereafter.

Iowa SB 341 2019

Establishes the penalty for the misrepresentation of a service animal or service animal-in-training as a simple misdemeanor.

Maine HB 1092 2015

Provides for a fine of up to $1000 for knowingly misrepresenting any animal as a service animal when it does meet the state’s statutory definition.

Minnesota HB 3157 2017

Establishes the misrepresentation of a service animal as a petty misdemeanor for the first offense and a misdemeanor for subsequent offenses.

Montana HB 439 2019

Establishes the misrepresentation of a service animal as a misdemeanor; provides monetary penalties for the first, second and subsequent offenses.

North Carolina HB 686 2005

Establishes the misrepresentation of a service animal as a Class 3 misdemeanor.

North Dakota HB 1259 2019

Makes the misrepresentation of a service animal for the purposes of obtaining a reasonable housing accommodation a civil infraction.

New Hampshire

HB 1362 2011

Makes it illegal to fit a non-service animal with a service animal tag. 

New Hampshire

HB 1568 2014

Establishes the request of a service animal tag for a non-service animal as a misdeamor. 

New Mexico HB 320 2013

Makes the misrepresentation of a service animal a misdemeanor offense.

Nevada SB 36 2005

Prohibits the misrepresentation of a service animal; establishes a misdemeanor penalty and a fine of up to $500.

Pennsylvania HB 2049 2017

Establishes the misrepresentation of entitlement to a service animal as a third-degree misdemeanor; establishes a fine of up to $1,000 for the misrepresentation of a service animal.

Rhode Island SB 308 2019

Makes the misrepresentation of a service animal punishable by up to 30 hours of community service.

South Carolina SB 281 2019

Establishes misdemeanor and monetary penalties for the first, second and subsequent offenses relating to the misrepresentation of a service animal or service animal-in-training.

Tennessee HB 1190 2019

Makes the misrepresentation of a service or support animal a Class B misdemeanor.

Utah  SB 192 2007

Creates misdemeanor penalties for falsely representing a service animal or for falsifying the need for such an animal to a health care professional. 

Utah  HB 43 2019

Changes the penalty for the misrepresentation of a service or support animal from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor.

Washington HB 2822 2017

Establishes a civil infraction and monetary penalty of up to $500 for the misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal.

West Virginia SB 397 2018

Establishes the misrepresentation of a service animal or service animal trainer as a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a monetary penalty of no more than $200 and/or 10 days in jail.

Wyoming HB 114 2017

Makes the intentional misrepresentation of a service animal a misdemeanor with a fine of no more than $750.

Additional Resources