Both Virginia's disability rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect the right of people with disabilities to bring service animals to public places like the following:
Public places "accommodations" in Virginia must comply with both state and federal laws regarding service animals. Read on to learn:
What kind of animal counts as a service animal in Virginia varies somewhat depending on whether you're applying state law or federal laws.
Virginia's disability rights law requires public places to allow guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs. The law defines these services animals as follows:
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that's individually trained to perform disability-related tasks or work for the benefit of a person with a disability. A miniature horse can also qualify as a service animal in some cases under this law. (Virginia's definition of service animals doesn't include miniature horses, only dogs.)
Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Psychiatric service dogs are dogs that help someone with a psychiatric or emotional disability. These service dogs perform tasks like:
Psychiatric service dogs are covered by the ADA. Virginia doesn't specifically mention psychiatric service dogs in its laws, but the state's definition of a service dog includes dogs that "interrupt impulsive or destructive behavior," which is a task a psychiatric service dog might do for a person with PTSD or severe depression. It's likely that Virginia law also covers service animals that can do specific tasks for people with psychiatric disabilities such as reminding them to take their medication.
What some call "emotional support animals" (ESAs) are animals that provide companionship, comfort, and a sense of safety to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. And although they're protected under the laws of some states, neither the ADA nor Virginia's service animal law protects your right to have your ESA in a public accommodation.
In fact, Virginia's disability law specifically excludes emotional support animals from its definition of a service dog. The law states that providing companionship, emotional support, well-being, or comfort doesn't qualify as performing work or tasks for a person with a disability.
Although ESAs often provide therapeutic benefits, they aren't individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers and so don't qualify as service animals under the ADA either. Since state and federal laws don't recognize them as service animals, owners of public accommodations in Virginia aren't required to admit emotional support animals.
Virginia's service animal law applies to all public places like:
In addition, it applies to all common carriers and public modes of transportation, like buses, trains, and subways. But the law does include a provision that allows local governments to create alternative paratransit or special transportation services for those with disabilities.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is extensive. It includes places like:
There's no state or federal law that requires any public accommodation in Virginia to allow you to have an emotional support animal or pet.
Although Virginia bars local governments from imposing a licensing fee for your service dog, the state law does require that service dogs be identified in particular ways:
Under the ADA, when you take your service animal to a public accommodation, you can't be questioned about your disability. And accommodation owners, managers, and personnel can't demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal's training or status. If what your service animal does isn't apparent, you can only be asked whether it's a service animal and what tasks it performs for you.
Both 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. But these laws do allow public accommodations to demand payment for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA does allow a public accommodation to exclude your service animal in the following circumstances:
In these situations, you can be asked to remove the animal from the premises.
Both the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Virginia law prohibit discrimination in rental housing accommodations against those who use service animals. Under both state and federal laws, you must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities.
What this means is that a "no pets" provision in a lease or rental agreement doesn't apply to your service animal. And your landlord isn't allowed to charge you extra for having a service animal—although you can be required to pay for damage your animal causes.
The FHA offers even more protection, requiring housing facilities to allow both service dogs and emotional support animals if the animal is necessary for someone with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To be protected by this provision, you must have both:
In other words, your animal must perform tasks or services or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability to qualify for protection under federal housing laws.
Learn more about your rights as a disabled renter.
Updated April 10, 2023