Seven Tips for Meeting Disability-Related Needs of Individuals with Mobility Impairments

In our March 2012 lesson, Fair Housing Coach explains how to meet the disability-related needs of individuals with mobility impairments under fair housing law. Communities should expect increased demand to meet those requirements with the influx of returning veterans—many with service-related disabilities—as well as the predicted increase in age-related disabilities of baby boomers and their parents.

Federal fair housing protections cover conditions that substantially limit mobility, including paralysis, loss of limbs, and other conditions that require the use of a wheelchair, cane, or motorized device to get around. Moreover, the law covers nonobvious impairments, such as heart disease and other conditions that impede the ability to walk due to nerve damage, muscle weakness, or shortness of breath.

Here are seven tips from the March lesson for complying with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) when dealing with individuals with mobility impairments:

  1. Make sure your leasing office is accessible. Your leasing office must be accessible to people with mobility impairments. Because it’s open to the public, a community’s leasing office is considered a place of public accommodation, which means that it’s subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as federal fair housing law.
  2. Comply with FHA accessibility rules. With few exceptions, multifamily communities built within the past 20 years must comply with the FHA design and construction requirements. Those rules require that all ground-level and elevator-accessible units, public-use areas, and common areas be accessible to individuals with mobility impairments.
  3. Don’t discriminate against individuals with mobility impairments. It’s illegal to turn away a prospect who uses a wheelchair due to a mobility disorder regardless of the reason. It doesn’t matter whether it’s based on concerns about the community’s image or potential liability or financial considerations. It’s a violation of the FHA to deny housing to a prospect because he—or someone associated with him—has a disability.
  4. Don’t ban use of motorized mobility devices. Take a hard look at your rules on the use of motorized vehicles to ensure that you don’t inadvertently violate fair housing law. Communities have faced liability under fair housing law for prohibiting or unduly restricting the use of power-driven wheelchairs and other motorized devices by individuals with mobility impairments.
  5. Curb curiosity about mobility impairments. Make sure your staff understands and complies with fair housing rules governing disability-related inquiries. In general, it’s unlawful to ask an applicant whether he or anyone associated with him has a disability or to ask about the nature or severity of such disabilities.
  6. Carefully consider requests for reasonable accommodations. Be prepared to handle requests for reasonable accommodations by individuals with mobility disorders. Not all requests are labeled as such—they often are expressed as something the resident needs or wants because of a disability. According to HUD/DOJ guidelines, a person makes a request for a reasonable accommodation whenever she makes it clear that she’s requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service because of her disability.
  7. Carefully review requests for reasonable modifications. Fair housing law requires communities to allow an applicant or resident with a disability to make reasonable modifications to the interior of his unit—as well as common areas—to allow him to fully enjoy the housing and related facilities. Under the FHA, the housing provider must permit the modification, but the resident is responsible for paying for it.

For the complete lesson and quiz, see “Meeting Disability-Related Needs of Individuals with Mobility Impairments,” on the Coach’s home page.