Tennessee Owners Guilty of Disability Discrimination, VAWA Noncompliance

HUD recently announced that it has entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) with HUD-funded Tennessee housing providers that will pay $50,000 in compensation to the aggrieved parties. The VCA resolves findings of noncompliance related to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as findings of noncompliance related to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits the exclusion or discrimination of qualified individuals based on disability in any program receiving federal financial assistance, including from HUD. Similarly, Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination. VAWA strengthens housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA applies to individuals seeking assistance under covered HUD housing programs, authorizing HUD to enforce the law with the same process, rights, and remedies as the Fair Housing Act.

Owners Effectively Denied Accommodation Requests

HUD’s Letter of Findings of Noncompliance described the owners’ effective denial of multiple reasonable accommodation or modification requests.

Lack of accessible units. In one example, a resident with a nonvisible disability asked the property manager to be relocated to another unit. HUD’s review or the site’s reasonable accommodation log showed that the request wasn’t documented and management didn’t ask for documentation of disability status or arrange an emergency unit transfer. HUD also found that 5 percent of the site’s units weren’t accessible to individuals with mobility impairments, and an additional 2 percent of the units weren’t accessible to individuals with hearing or vision impairments.

No emergency transfer plan. HUD also uncovered instances of VAWA noncompliance involving two households that experienced incidents of sexual assault and/or domestic violence and in which the respondents failed to provide the requested VAWA transfers or take any additional action needed to process the requests. Due to the egregiousness of the owners’ lack of action and the amount of time that had lapsed since the tenants’ initial requests, HUD’s compliance review team addressed the VAWA issues in a separate memorandum.

The memo stated that the site receives project-based rental assistance and is a covered housing program. The memo reminded the owner of VAWA protections. If a tenant believes they are in imminent harm by remaining in the same unit, they can request an emergency transfer. Covered housing programs must adopt an emergency transfer plan based on a model plan from HUD.

The emergency transfer plan must allow tenants to make an internal emergency transfer when a safe unit is immediately available. The emergency transfer plan must describe reasonable efforts the housing provider will take to assist a tenant who wishes to make an external emergency transfer when a safe unit isn’t immediately available. In this case, upon being notified that tenants requested a transfer and were households that experienced alleged violence against women, the owner failed to administer and implement an emergency transfer plan, as required by VAWA.

What’s in the Compliance Agreement

Under the VCA (Case No. 04-23-R560-4), the owners agreed to pay $50,000 in monetary compensation to the five tenants named in the letter of findings and VAWA memorandum. One owner also agreed to revise its transfer policy, revise its VAWA policies, construct or convert 10 uniform federal accessibility standard (UFAS) accessible units, with an additional four units for the hearing and visually impaired and accessible common areas, designate a VAWA coordinator, respond to VAWA-related grievances and transfer requests within 10 days, and attend VAWA training.

That owner will also amend its existing reasonable accommodation transfer log to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Name of requester, requester’s current address, unit number, building number, phone number, and email address;
  • Whether the requester is a resident or applicant;
  • Description of the request;
  • Whether the request was made verbally or in writing;
  • For disability transfer requests, the size of the unit requested and whether the request is for an accessible unit or a transfer to a different unit to accommodate a disability-related need (for example, a ground-floor unit with no stairs, room for a live-in aide, room for medical equipment, etc.);
  • Date of the request;
  • Whether the request was approved or denied in whole or in part, or if an alternate accommodation/modification was offered;
  • If denied, stated justification for denial;
  • Date that the accommodation or modification was provided or completed; and
  • Pending and final appeals/grievances of denied or delayed requests, accommodation/modification requests, including the date of the appeal/grievance, the date of the final decision, and the final outcome.