I have previously written about the perils of management failing to properly respond to reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests. Here is what can happen if management does not get it right: on December 27, 2010, a federal district court entered a consent decree requiring Defendants Warren Properties Inc., Warren Village (Mobile) Limited Partnership and Frank R. Warren to pay $1.25 million to resolve the United States’ lawsuit alleging that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to grant a tenant’s requests for a reasonable accommodation. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), this settlement reflects the largest amount ever obtained by the DOJ in an individual housing discrimination case.
The original complaint, filed back in April 2009, alleged that that management refused to permit a tenant with a mobility impairment – an impairment which required him to use crutches and leg braces — to move to a ground-floor apartment near the front of the building in a 196-unit apartment complex in Mobile, Alabama. The suit also alleged that the resident suffered severe injuries – resulting in the tenant being hospitalized, undergoing surgery, and having to use a wheelchair — because he fell down the stairs that led to the second floor apartment where the tenant resided. While I know there are two sides to every story — and I always want to learn the other side — this settlement reflects a cautionary tale for all of us involved in apartment ownership/management.
Under the consent decree, the defendants must pay $1,195,000 in monetary damages to the tenant, along with an additional $55,000 to the United States. The defendants must hire a reasonable accommodation facilitator to handle requests for reasonable accommodations from more than 11,000 housing units in 85 properties managed by Warren Properties Inc. in 15 states. The defendants must also attend fair housing training, implement a non-discrimination policy, and comply with specified notice, monitoring and reporting requirements.
To be sure, this is an extreme result. However, it demonstrates that HUD and the DOJ are watching. If you receive a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request, management is obligated to engage in the interactive process with the resident. I recommend you send an interim response noting that the matter is being considered. Then review the request as well as the proposed relief. Decide what can be done. Sometimes the relief is simple. Sometimes management will propose a different solution. What is critical is that the request not be ignored.
Just a Thought.