Welcome to Emotional Support Animal Laws Virginia
A quick snapshot of ESA laws in Virginia
- Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not service dogs
- Emotional support animals may be animals other than dogs
- Mental health professionals can write a prescription for an emotional support animal under the law to be utilized by someone with a disability or mental health condition
- Airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals in the cabin, but they can still fly as a pet
- ESAs are not given public access rights in the U.S. and can be excluded from public places and businesses
- Someone with an emotional support animal (ESA) can make a request for a “reasonable accommodation” to a housing and/or work environment and, if granted, the ESA will be allowed with that person in those environments
- Check out our blog Emotional Support Animals – the Ultimate Guide to learn more about ESAs in general
Table of Contents
What is an Emotional Support Animal in Virginia?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is exactly what it sounds like, an animal that is helping somebody with emotional support, companionship, or comfort, with its mere presence. Emotional support animals are not considered service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act and don’t have public access rights in the U.S. However, emotional support animals, companion animals, and service dogs, are all known as “assistance animals” under the Fair Housing Act.
Why ESAs Aren’t Service Dogs
ESAs are not service dogs because ESAs are not individually trained for a particular person’s disability like service dogs are.
Service dogs do certain work or tasks that are specific to a disability. Emotional support animals don’t normally do this work or tasks above basic dog training.
Does Virginia Recognize Emotional Support Animals?
Virginia does not recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) for public access rights as it does service animals. This means emotional support animals can be denied access to public places. However, ESAs may have rights when it comes to a reasonable request in a housing or employment situation, under the federal FHA (Fair Housing Act) and/or ADA laws for people who live with disabilities.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.
Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals. Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network
Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA.ADA
The ADA is divided into five titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
To learn more about the ADA Titles, check out Ask Jan (Job Accommodation Network). ESAs are still potentially covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I (Employment) as well as the Fair Housing Act for housing situations.
Virginia Emotional Support Animal Laws – Housing
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not automatically exempt from a housing provider’s no-pet policies. Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make reasonable accommodations. This is so that tenants – including those with disabilities – can fully enjoy their homes.
When landlords don’t allow pets in their rentals, it doesn’t apply to assistance animals. Check out my guide: Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animals to learn much more about how that whole process works.
Can a landlord deny an ESA in Virginia?
A housing provider can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation (or modification) for an emotional support animal or another assistance animal if:
- The request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability
- If there is no disability-related need for the accommodation or modification
- Providing the accommodation or modification would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider
- If it would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s program
- The determination of undue financial and administrative burden must be made on a case-by-case basis involving various factors
Air Travel & Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are no longer included in the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) definition of service animal, therefore…
ESAs may not travel in the cabin of a plane with their human under the ACAA; although, individual airlines may vary. ESAs may still travel through the air as a pet. JetBlue is one airline that allows small dogs and cats under 20 pounds to fly in the cabin in an approved pet carrier.
Recently, the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act has been updated to exclude emotional support animals
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.U.S. Department of Transportation
Emotional Support Animals & Access to public places
Emotional support animals are not covered by the federal ADA for public access rights, so they can be denied access to public places, although individual businesses may vary.
ESAs can still visit “pet-friendly” public accommodations with their handler.
Emotional Support Animals & Employment
Practical steps for processing a request to bring an emotional support animal into the workplace:
Someone requesting to bring an emotional support animal into the workplace (as an accommodation) falls under the category of modifying a workplace policy. This is assuming a workplace has some kind of animal policy, perhaps a no-animals policy.
Taking a look at policies
Employers need to take a look at their policy and ask themselves if it can be modified. The answer usually depends on the employee’s particular job and the work environment. Check out my guide to ADA Service Animal Workplace Accommodations to learn more about that whole process.
Emotional support animals do not need to be registered for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. Websites selling ESA papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA, and purchasing one of those pieces of paper from the internet does not give someone any special rights.
What is needed for housing and/or employment is a letter from a doctor or other medical professional merely stating the animal is required. Check out our blog Which Service Dog Registry is Legimitate to learn more about why registration is not required for service animals or ESAs.
Or, check out my guide to Fair Housing Act & ESAs to learn about what types of documents are acceptable as proof of disability (proof of the disability-related need for the ESA.)
Emotional support animals can benefit many people, especially people with certain types of invisible or non-physical disabilities. While ESAs don’t have public access rights under the ADA laws, nor air travel rights under the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) laws, emotional support animals can be requested as a reasonable accommodation in housing and workplace environments.
Housing providers and employers will need to be accommodating unless there is a valid reason to avoid the accommodation. ESAs do not need to be specially trained, as they provide comfort and emotional support through their presence to people who need it.
Related Articles & Reference:
- Service Animal ADA Laws – Workplace Accommodations
- Federal ADA Public Access Laws
- Service Dog Laws Virginia – Comprehensive Guide & FAQ
- ADA – Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals FAQ
- JAN – Job Accommodation Network
- Assistance Animals (HUD) U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development
- Emotional Support Animal Laws by U.S. State