The following statutes comprise the state’s relevant assistance animal and guide dog laws.
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Amendments were made to the Virginia Fair Housing Law with respect to assistance animals in 2017.
A definition for “assistance animal” was established, which provides it is:
an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. An assistance animal is not required to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals. An assistance animal is not a pet.
Other new definitions include “major life activities” and “physical or mental impairment.”
Two new sections entitled, “§ 36–96.3:1 Rights and responsibilities with respect to the use of an assistance animal in a dwelling” and “§ 36–96.3:2. Reasonable accommodations; interactive process” were enacted. Section § 36–96.3:1 states that a person with a disability who keeps an assistance animal “shall comply with the rental agreement or any rules and regulations of the property owner applicable to all residents that do not interfere with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling and any common areas of the premises.” The law also notes that residents with assistance animals shall not pay pet fees, but are responsible for any physical damages to the dwelling if residents who maintain pets are responsible for such damages.
The law mirrors federal requirements on requesting an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation. If the disability-related need is not readily apparent or known, the person receiving the request may ask for additional verification to evaluate the requester’s disability-related need. The person receiving the request may ask the requester to provide reliable documentation of the disability and the disability-related need for an assistance animal, including documentation from any person with whom the person with a disability has or has had a therapeutic relationship. That phrase is defined under the new law.
Section 36–96.3:2 states that a request for a reasonable shall be granted where there is a disability-related need and that request does not impose (i) an undue financial and administrative burden or (ii) a fundamental alteration to the nature of the operations of the person receiving the request. In the event the request does create an undue burden, the law requires that the “the person receiving the request shall offer to engage in a good-faith interactive process to determine if there is an alternative accommodation that would effectively address the disability-related needs of the requester.” Finally, subsection (c) affirms that each request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and outlines when a request need not be granted, such as where the person seeking the accommodation is not disabled or the accommodation imposes an undue burden. The law ends with this statement: “In addition, as determined by the person receiving the request, the requested assistance animal shall not pose a clear and present threat of substantial harm to others or to the dwelling itself that is not solely based on breed, size, or type or cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.” Va. Code Ann. § 36-96.1.1 – 3.2