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Virginia to Require Therapeutic Relationship for Emotional Support Animal Requests

Emotional Support Animal

At the urging of NAA’s affiliates in the state, Virginia has passed Senate Bill 1228 after apartment owners reported a significant spike in requests for emotional support animals from prospective residents. Applicants oftentimes present verification from out-of-state, online services to circumvent no-pet policies or pet rent, fees and deposits.

SB 1228 outlines the process for apartment owners to respond to reasonable accommodation requests for an assistance animal, in accordance with federal law and guidance. Additionally, when an owner is allowed under current federal law to request third-party verification, the new Virginia law requires the person serving as the verifier of a disability or disability-related need for the animal to have a “therapeutic relationship” with the prospective resident seeking accommodation.

As the bill made its way through the legislative process, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) staff submitted a comment letter in January to raise concerns. Staff argued the requirement for a therapeutic relationship might interfere with the substantial equivalency of Virginia’s fair housing law to the federal Fair Housing Act and therefore affect eligibility for federal funding. In line with concerns raised by HUD, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1228 with an enactment clause to render any provisions unenforceable that might be deemed inconsistent in HUD’s review to avoid Virginia being out of compliance and subject to loss of funding or other punitive action.

SB 1228 was approved by Governor Terry McAuliffe on March 16 and becomes effective on July 1. In addition to the state law, the Virginia Fair Housing Board adopted guidance that is even more specific than the legislation which passed.

NAA continues to monitor activity on this issue at the state and local level and is working with its Virginia affiliates to discuss the substantial equivalency concerns further with HUD.

To navigate this complicated issue, NAA developed the NAA Toolkit Emotional Support Animals: A Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Requests. The toolkit and additional resources, such as an addendum to the Toolkit’s frequently asked questions section and a sample assistance animal reasonable accommodation policy can be found on NAA’s website (member log-in required).

For additional information, please contact Nicole Upano, Manager, NAA Government Affairs.