By Curtis G. Kimble.
Has your board ever faced a demand for a “reasonable accommodation” by a disabled resident? Have you ever heard of a “reasonable accommodation”? What about a request for a modification to a unit or common area to accommodate a disability? As explained by the following excerpt from our Utah HOA Law app, if certain requirements are met, granting the request for accommodation or modification is not optional, and enforcing a covenant or rule in such a case can actually be illegal.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by landlords and HOAs, as well as others associated with providing housing whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable (or restrict the use of housing) to persons because of:
• race or color
• national origin
• familial status, or
. . .
Discrimination Based Upon Disability
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all types of housing transactions. It’s important to realize that discrimination against disabled persons is unlike any other type of discrimination. At the core of the policy against discrimination is the concept that everyone should be treated equally. The Act, however, requires that housing providers give special treatment to the disabled when it is necessary to allow them to have an equal opportunity to enjoy their dwellings.
Specifically, a disabled person is entitled to “reasonable accommodations” (exceptions) in the rules, practices, or services of a housing provider (including an HOA) that are necessary for a disabled individual to use or enjoy a dwelling. So, while uniform enforcement of the governing documents and rules is crucial as a general principle in an HOA, such uniform enforcement is actually against the law when a rule interferes with a disabled person’s use and enjoyment of their dwelling. For instance, an HOA has a “no pets” policy. A resident who is deaf requests that the HOA allow him to keep a dog in his unit as a reasonable accommodation. The resident explains that the dog is an assistance animal that will alert him to several sounds, including knocks at the door, sounding of the smoke detector, the telephone ringing, and cars coming into the driveway. The HOA must make an exception to its “no pets” policy to accommodate this resident.
When considering a request for a “reasonable accommodation,” an HOA must normally evaluate whether: (1) the individual is disabled, (2) the requested accommodation is reasonable, and (3) the requested accommodation is necessary for the individual to use or enjoy a dwelling.
1. Disabled. An individual can be disabled in one of three ways. A disability is: (a) a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (b) a record of having such an impairment, or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.
The term mental or physical impairment may include conditions such as blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, mental retardation, alcoholism, drug addiction (but current drug users are not considered disabled), chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury, and mental illness. The term major life activity may include seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, speaking, or working.
2. Reasonable. To be reasonable, an accommodation cannot impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the HOA and the benefit of the accommodation to the disabled person is weighed against the burden on the housing provider. Those things are determined on a case-by-case basis taking various factors into account, such as the cost, the resources of the provider, the benefit of the accommodation, and whether alternatives would meet the disability-related needs.
3. Necessary. For a requested accommodation to be necessary for the individual to use or enjoy a dwelling, the requested accommodation must affirmatively enhance a disabled plaintiff’s quality of life by ameliorating the effects of the disability. In other words, there must be a nexus between the disability and the requested accommodation.
The Act also requires an HOA to permit a disabled person to make reasonable modifications to the common area or to a unit in order to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises. The modification is made at the disabled person’s expense (unless it is to be used by anyone other than that person, or if the HOA requires more expensive materials or options than those proposed by the owner, the HOA pays the difference). This is in contrast to an accommodation. Accommodations are made by the housing provider (HOA) and can result in an expense to the HOA (unless it creates a financial burden on the HOA).
The same three criteria applicable to reasonable accommodations (disability, reasonableness, necessity) must be met or the HOA is not required to allow the modification.
HUD has given examples of modifications that are typically considered reasonable, which include:
1. widening doorways to make rooms more accessible for persons in wheelchairs;
2. installing grab bars in bathrooms;
3. adding a ramp to make a primary entrance accessible for persons in wheelchairs; or
4. altering a walkway to provide access to a public or common use area.
. . .
This is a tricky area that can be counter-intuitive for boards. A board should be familiar with and understand the above concepts, but this is definitely one area where a qualified attorney should be consulted prior to a board making any final decision to grant or deny a request for reasonable accommodation.