As I have discussed in prior posts, federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws are designed to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to access and enjoy their homes. Owners and property management companies can be required to make a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification as a result of a disability. An accommodation is a change in a policy or a procedure at the community. An easy example is a request to waive a no-pet policy for a hearing impaired resident who has a service animal. A modification, for example, is to lower a mailbox to assist a resident with a mobility impairment.
It is the responsibility of the resident (or applicant) with the disability to make the request for an accommodation to management. Owners are not obligated to seek out a resident and make accommodations or modifications.
Although not required, the best practice is for reasonable accommodation and modification requests (as well as all subsequent correspondence) to be in writing. Management should keep those letters in the resident’s file. Having the requests in writing facilitates clear communication and creates a "paper trail" in case the issues are not resolved and we have to defend a subsequent fair housing claim.
As a part of an accommodation request (particularly when the disability is latent), the resident should include a note from a medical professional concerning the condition and the accommodation or modification request. Management is not required to grant a reasonable accommodation or modification request unless we know or should have known about the disability. Again, in cases where the condition is not always obvious, the letter serves as notice of the disability. Moreover, a note from a medical professional answers many, if not all, of management’s legitimate medical questions in the least intrusive manner possible.
Make no mistake, management knows and understands the law. We want to get it right. In my experience (which is now confirmed by HUD) fair housing complaints concerning disabilities and reasonable accommodations/modifications related to disabilities are now the most common complaints being filed. Let’s not unnecessarily add to that stack of complaints. Then you will not just need to read my blog, but you will need to contact me to defend a claim.
Just A Thought