FAQs about Fair Housing Disability Rules

May 29, 2014
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The June issue of Fair Housing Coach tackles some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about fair housing rules based on disability, the most common source of discrimination complaints and lawsuits faced by multifamily housing communities today. Here are a few of the 17 FAQs from the June issue:

Q: How Does Fair Housing Law Protect Individuals with a Disability?

A: Federal fair housing law bans discrimination based on disability, so it’s unlawful to exclude applicants or residents because of their disability—or the disability of anyone associated with them—or to treat people with disabilities less favorably than others because of a disability. In addition, the law requires communities to provide reasonable accommodations and modifications as necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to fully enjoy their dwellings.

Q: What Does Disability Mean under Fair Housing Law?

A: Fair housing law defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It applies to a wide variety of physical or mental conditions, when they are serious enough to substantially affect activities that are of central importance to daily life.

Q: Who Qualifies as an Individual with a Disability under Fair Housing Law?

A: Under fair housing law, an individual with a disability means anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The law also protects individuals who may not currently have such an impairment if they:

  • Have “a record of” impairment, that is, have a history of—or were misclassified as having—a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  • Are “regarded as” having such an impairment—that is, are being treated by others as having such an impairment.

Q: What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A: Federal guidelines define “reasonable accommodation” as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

In essence, the reasonable accommodation provisions require communities to make exceptions to their general rules for individuals with disabilities under certain circumstances. Requests for reasonable accommodations often involve assistance animals or parking, but the law applies to a wide range of disability-related exceptions to rules and policies.

Q: Who Pays for Reasonable Accommodations?

A: In general, communities are responsible for paying the costs associated with a reasonable accommodation as long as it doesn’t pose an undue financial and administrative burden on the community

Q: What Is a Reasonable Modification?

A: Under the FHA, a “reasonable modification” is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises.

The law requires communities to permit applicants or residents with a disability, at their expense, to make reasonable modifications to the housing if necessary to afford them full enjoyment of the premises. A request for reasonable modifications may include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of units and to common and public use areas. While housing providers must permit the modification, the resident is responsible for paying the cost of the modification.

For the rest of the 17 FAQs, along with a Quiz based on them, see “Fair Housing FAQs: Answering Your Questions About Disability Rules,” available to subscribers here.