Fair Housing and Disabilities

Posted: 10/26/2012

Many aspects of the fair housing laws apply to homeowner associations. Discrimination and a violation of the Act can occur when the homeowner association fails to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled resident, for example. Individuals are considered disabled if they have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A reasonable accommodation is an alteration to the association's covenants, rules, regulations, policies, and services to provide the person equal use and enjoyment of their home. For example, an individual may be blind and use a seeing-eye dog for assistance. If a community has a no pet policy, it would be required to accommodate the disabled individual and allow the seeing-eye dog in the community. The fair housing laws prevent the association from enforcing the no pet policy against this homeowner or resident, and require the association to provide a variance to the disabled individual and accommodate them.

Discrimination can also occur when the homeowner association fails to allow a reasonable modification to the community's common elements. A reasonable modification is an alteration to the building, common elements or limited common elements to afford the person equal use and enjoyment of his/her home. A person confined to a wheel chair that requests that a lift station be installed in the association's pool so they can use it is an example of this situation. The fair housing laws require the association to allow the modification to the common elements.The requesting party may be responsible to pay a portion or all of the cost to make the modification.

Homeowner associations can adopt policies to address these requests - one for reasonable accommodations and one for reasonable modifications. Each policy provides both parties with a road map for the process and handling of such requests. It establishes the expectations for each party, and channels the necessary dialogue between the parties.

It is highly advisable to consult your management team whenever these types of requests are made, since every case is very fact specific. Your property manager and association attorney can help you identify the legal obligations and duties in each particular case, and avoid the filing of a discrimination complaint against the Association.