A couple of questions have arisen concerning disabilities and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  As such, I thought this would be a good time to review some of the basics about reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications. 

To help ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to and enjoyment of their housing, the FHA provides residents/applicants with the right to request a reasonable accommodation or to make a reasonable modification.

A reasonable accommodation is a change to a rule, policy or procedure.  Under the law, a person with a recognized disability has the right to request that a housing provider make a reasonable accommodation that will allow the person with a disability to have an equal enjoyment of housing. Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:

  • allowing a person with a service animal to live in an apartment with a “no pets” policy or to not charge a pet fee if the community permits animals; 
  • providing a friendly note on the last day of the month to remind a person with a developmental disability that the rent is due the following day; or
  • providing a way to communicate with a resident who has a hearing impairment

The law does not give specific detail as to what types of accommodations are reasonable.  In practice, it becomes a matter of judgment on behalf of both management and the resident/applicant.  Indeed, there are many times when management and the resident absolutely agree on the appropriate accommodation.

In addition to a reasonable accommodation, a resident with a disability has the right to request a physical modification to his or her rental unit if it is necessary to allow the resident with an equal enjoyment of his or her housing. Examples of reasonable modifications include:

  • installation of a ramp;
  • installation of grab bars;
  • widening of doorways; or 
  • lowering a mailbox;

In most cases (at conventional properties), the resident is responsible for the cost of the modifications made to the property and needs to ensure management that the work will be done properly and that any permits needed will be acquired. The tenant may be required to make payments into an escrow account to establish funds to remove the alteration, if indeed the change would interfere with the landlord’s or future tenant’s ability to enjoy the property.  In affordable communities, the rule is usually reversed and management is required to pay for the modification, provided that the cost would not reflect a fundamental alteration in the housing program.

At least as important as the final decision on reasonable accommodation or modification requests is a requirement that management timely consider and respond to the request.  I have seen any number of cases in which management’s inaction causes more problems down the road.  It is also my usual recommendation that management provide the resident with an interim letter indicating that we have received your request and the leasing office staff is reviewing it.   

Just a thought.