Under Virginia’s disability rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," including stores, businesses, motels, restaurants, theaters, schools, and more. Public accommodations in Virginia must comply with both state and federal law. Learn below which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Virginia’s disability rights law requires public places to allow guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs:
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to perform disability-related tasks or work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal.) In addition to psychiatric service dogs, examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Neither the ADA nor Virginia’s service animal law includes pets or what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Virginia law specifically states that providing companionship, emotional support, well-being, or comfort does not qualify as performing work or tasks for a person with a disability. Although these animals often provide therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Virginia law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.
Virginia’s service animal law applies to all public places like public buildings, facilities, streets, and sidewalks, and it also applies to restaurants, hotels, other lodging places, places of amusement, and any other place to which the general public is invited. In addition, it applies to all common carriers and public modes of transportation, like buses, trains, and subways. (However, the law also includes a provision allowing local governments to create alternative paratransit or special transportation services for those with disabilities.)
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes place such as:
Virginia law requires that service dogs be identified in particular ways:
The ADA and Virginia law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
Under the ADA, your service animal can be excluded from a public accommodation if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it.
Both the federal Fair Housing Act and Virginia law prohibit discrimination in rental housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and your landlord may not charge you extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a “no pets” provision, it does not apply to your service animal.
Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidance on service animals.)