New Guidance on Reasonable Modifications Under the FHA
In March 2008, HUD and the Justice Department issued a joint statement on reasonable modifications under the Fair Housing Act. Like the 2004 guidance on reasonable accommodations, the new guidance explains who is considered disabled under the FHA, and provides technical assistance regarding the rights and obligations of individuals with disabilities, and housing providers.
A person with a disability may need either a reasonable modification or a reasonable accommodation—or both—to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the community. Generally, a reasonable modification is a structural change made to the premises, whereas a reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service. In general, a resident is responsible for the costs associated with a reasonable modification, but the community is responsible for the costs associated with a reasonable accommodation. The guidance offers some examples:
Because of a mobility disorder, a resident wants to install grab bars in the bathroom. This is a reasonable modification, so the community must allow the resident to do it his expense.
Because of a vision disability, a resident requests to have a guide dog despite the community's no-pets policy. This is a request for a reasonable accommodation, and the community must grant the accommodation.
A request for a parking space seems to fall somewhere in the middle, but the guidance explains that courts generally treat such requests as requests for a reasonable accommodation. Courts have required communities to provide an assigned space even if the community had a policy of not assigning parking spaces. Communities may not require individuals with disabilities to pay extra fees as a condition of receiving accessible parking spaces.