Emotional Support Animal Laws in Virginia
Quick snapshot of ESA laws in Virginia
- Emotional support dogs (ESAs) are not service 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 workplace environment and, if granted, the ESA will be allowed with that person in those environments
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.
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.
Public Access Rights & Emotional Support Animals Virginia
No public access rights for ESAs
ESAs do not have public access rights in Virginia under the ADA Americans with Disabilities Act. In other words, they can be excluded from public places where service dogs are normally allowed. However, emotional support animals may still be welcomed anywhere that is considered pet-friendly. Individual businesses may vary.
Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?
No. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.Americans with Disabilities Act – Frequently Asked Questions
Emotional Support Animals in Housing Virginia
People who use ESAs are offered certain accommodations under federal law in the areas of housing. This is under the the Fair Housing Act.
There are different laws around service animals and emotional support animals.
The Fair Housing Act definition of “assistance animal” includes ESAs
What Is an Assistance Animal?
An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development
Service Animals & ESAs are Both “Assistance Animals” Under This Definition
In other words, service animals and emotional support animals are both covered under this definition of “assistance animal” for housing under the Fair Housing Act.
Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers may not discriminate against someone due to a disability when they are attempting to obtain housing.
- Pet bans or restrictions are waived for people who have a prescription for an ESA
- People with ESAs cannot be charged a pet deposit for having their ESA live with them
ESA for Housing May Require a Prescription
People with emotional support animals do not need to obtain a fancy letter from the internet. They merely would need to speak with their doctor and obtain a prescription saying that the animal is necessary. No personal information about a disability is required to be disclosed to housing providers.
Requesting reasonable accommodation for housing
Someone with a disability can request a “reasonable accommodation” for an ESA in a housing situation, and housing providers need to be accommodating unless they can show that allowing an ESA would be an undue burden on its operations.
- ESA’s do not need to be specially trained in order to qualify for a reasonable accommodation for a housing situation
- Animals other than dogs may also function as emotional support, therapy or assistance animals in housing situations under the Fair Housing Act (I think that is why ESAs are called “ assistance animals,” not “service dogs” under this particular Act)
- Payment may be required for any specific damage done to the premises by an ESA
- It is illegal to charge someone with a disability an extra fee to keep a guide or service dog or an emotional support, therapy or assistance animal (ESA)
Emotional Support Animal Certification and Registration Virginia
Legitimate emotional support animal registration and certification is not a thing, even though you may find website online trying to sell these “documents.” ESAs are not allowed in public places like service dogs are, nor airplane cabins.
ESAs can be requested as a reasonable accommodation for housing and for employment situations. However, all that is needed is a doctor’s letter/doctor’s prescription stating the animal is necessary for a disability.
Emotional support animals do not need to be registered for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. By the way, websites selling service animal papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA.
Purchasing one of those piece of papers 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.
Emotional Support Animals and Air Travel Virginia
ESAs no longer included
Several years ago, emotional support animals were included in the definition of service animal for air travel. So, ESAs were permitted in the cabin of air planes with their handlers.
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
Individual airlines may vary
Individual airlines may vary, so do check it out if you would like to travel somewhere by air with your emotional support animal. ESAs are generally still able to travel as pets.
Emotional support animals can benefit many people, especially in this complicated world that we live in nowadays. While they don’t have public access rights under the ADA laws, nor air travel rights under the ACAA (air travel) 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 by their presence to people who need it.