West Virginia enforces the laws laid out in the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHAA), Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and other laws that protect people with emotional support animals from discrimination.
The White Cane Law in West Virginia, which is primarily designed to protect those who use service animals for visual impairment, establishes that an emotional support animal is not the same as a service animal and is not protected in the same manner. Subsequently, it is not protected under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
With that said, the state of West Virginia takes a progressive stance towards protecting those who need an emotional support animal in certain environments, including protection from housing and travel discrimination.
It is helpful to understand the emotional support animal laws in West Virginia to avoid any complications and know what to do if unlawful discrimination occurs. The following is an overview of the laws established in federal laws and West Virginia laws that protect emotional support animals.
West Virginia enforces the laws established in the Federal Fair Housing Act that protect those in need of an emotional support animal from discrimination from landlords. The law states that landlords cannot deny a prospective tenant the right to housing due to their emotional support animal, and that the emotional support animal is allowed to live with the tenant regardless of existing pet policies.
As it relates to access to housing opportunities, West Virginia does not make a distinction between service animals and emotional support animals as both are granted access and protected under the Fair Housing Act. This means regardless of the exact purpose, any animal that serves a purpose to one’s health and is recommended by a licensed medical professional is protected from housing discrimination.
Those who own an emotional support animal are exempt from the pet policies and pet fees of apartment complexes, rental homes, nursing homes and other types of long-term living facilities. Subsequently, landlords are not allowed to charge a pet fee or tell the tenant that the emotional support animal cannot stay in the home with the individual.
With that said, some restrictions may apply. The landlord may be able to deny the emotional support animal if it displays aggressive, destructive or disturbing behavior. Also, there are restrictions for certain types of animals, and some larger or more aggressive animals may be denied.
To ensure your emotional support animal is granted access to live with you, it is essential to secure an emotional support animal (ESA) letter from a licensed mental health professional. You can learn more about how to get an ESA letter here.
Residents of West Virginia are also protected under the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits airlines from discriminating against individuals with a disability. Under the ACAA, it protects owners of an emotional support animal from being denied access to their flight and allows their companion to travel alongside them.
However, there are some important procedural steps to take to ensure your pet is allowed to travel with you on airline flights. The ACAA has become more strict on ensuring that those who travel with their pet have the proper documentation (an ESA letter) to avoid abuse of the law. To avoid any issues on the day of your flight, be sure to notify the airline at least 48 hours in advance and check with the airline on the proper way to bring your pet on board.
Perhaps the most common reason an emotional support animal is not allowed on the flight is if the individual does not have the proper documentation. There may also be certain animal restrictions that relate to flying, and animals that are too big or disruptive may be denied. The airline may deny access if your emotional support animal requires a bathroom break during the flight.
With that said, if your animal is small, quiet and well-behaved, and you have an ESA letter and follow the proper procedure, then your companion should be allowed access to flights in West Virginia. Emotional support animals are a great way to calm anxieties during a flight and make the travel process much more pleasurable.
Employers in the state of West Virginia do not have to allow employees to bring emotional support animals into the workplace as they are not viewed the same as service animals within state law. This means they can deny the ability of the employee to bring the animal to the workplace each day, unless it is licensed as a service animal rather than an ESA.
However, the White Cane Law protects those who require a service animal to assist with a physical disability, and allows them to bring their service animal to work with them in most instances. Unfortunately, the benefit does not extend to those who rely on an emotional support animal for their mental health complications or disabilities.
Although emotional support animals are not protected in a work environment within West Virginia, employees do have some options. The first is to simply discuss your need for an emotional support animal with your employer. In many instances, they are understanding and willing to provide the necessary accommodations as long the animal does not cause any distractions in the work environment. The employer may instead allow for a more remote role, allowing the employee to work more from home.
If the employer does not allow for an emotional support animal in the work environment, then the employer is unfortunately not able to take any action. If having the emotional support animal by your side is necessary, then it might be best to find a new, more understanding employer.
Public Accommodation Laws
The White Cane Law allows those with service animals access to the majority of public accommodations, but it does not allow emotional support animal owners the same opportunity. Therefore, an ESA letter does not protect you and your ESA from not being allowed access to a range of public places, including:
Of course, the above list is only an example, and there are numerous other public accommodations that have the right to not allow emotional support animals. That being said, many public places accept emotional support animals as long as they have advanced notice. If you need to take your ESA with you to a restaurant, library, or other public place, then contact the establishment before going to see if they will allow your pet. Consider doing more research and finding a place that allows for emotional support animals, such as a pet-friendly hotel or a park that allows dogs.
If you have a service animal and not an emotional support animal, then it is protected under the White Cane Law in West Virginia against discrimination from public establishments. While they may ask if it is a service animal, they are not allowed to deny you or your pet access if you have a service animal registration.
For both service animals and emotional support animals, the public place may have the right to deny access if the pet is disruptive, aggressive or may cause damage of any kind. The owner is also responsible for any damages the pet causes, regardless of whether it is a service animal or an emotional support animal.
An Overview of an ESA Letter
An ESA letter ensures the individual is protected under the Fair Housing Act, Air Carrier Access Act and other laws that provide emotional support animals special access. An ESA letter must be recommended by a licensed mental health professional, who conducts an interview to determine if an emotional support animal is necessary.
Without an ESA letter, a person’s animal is not protected by law—regardless of if it is used for a therapeutic purpose. However, obtaining proper registration prevents discrimination against those with mental complications, and it ensures the person’s pet is able to live and travel with the individual.
This is different than service animal registration, as an ESA letter is primarily for those who use their pet to provide emotional support and relief from mental health complications such as depression or anxiety. Service animals are instead primarily used for physical complications, such as visual impairment or the risk of a seizure.
How to Get an ESA Letter in West Virginia
The first step towards obtaining an ESA letter in West Virginia is to fill out a registration form, which you can find here on the U.S. Service Animals website, or by giving U.S. Service Animals a call today. After, our team and a mental health professional will review the application for an ESA letter. Next, a time will be arranged for a meeting with a licensed mental health professional. If they determine you can benefit from an emotional support animal, an ESA letter of recommendation, along with other documentation, will be sent to you. You do not make any payments unless you are approved for an emotional support animal letter, so there is no financial risk involved.