Anybody remember the 1981 classic Bill Murray movie Stripes? It is one of my favorites. Remember the scene near the beginning of the film (before he joins the Army) when Murray’s John Winger notes that over the past few hours he has: lost his job, lost his girlfriend, lost his car, and lost his apartment? And then he gives the punch line: "And then depression set in." I know how Murray/Winger felt. Okay, I am exaggerating just a bit, but I did feel like snapping a pencil.
I was doing some fair housing compliance for a client. We were reviewing reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests from residents. We came to one reasonable accommodation transfer request that was received from a resident in January 2012. And we could not find any notation in the file that the request had been responded to and/or considered. And we are now close to three months later. That just cannot happen. HUD and various state agencies can and will conclude that a failure by management to respond to a reasonable accommodation request is essentially a denial of that request. While there is no bright line test for how much delay is too much — the point is that there should be no delay in at least sending our residents an interim letter and noting we are reviewing the request.
I have written any number of times in this space the sequence of events that should take place when management receives a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request. First, ask for it in writing so the file can be appropriately noted. Send the resident an interim letter acknowledging the request and seeking appropriate medical/health care documentation (if necessary). Evaluate and decide what management can do. Once the decision is made, inform the resident in writing. Keep copies of all documents in the file. Note any oral conversations to further demonstrate management is working through the request with the resident.
Am I writing that management must grant each and every request received from a resident? Absolutely not. But, management MUST respond to each request and management is required to engage in the interactive process to evaluate every request. Again, not responding will put management in an unnecessarily weak position if and when a fair housing complaint gets filed.
Do I want you to hire me to draft your reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification forms? Sure. Can I provide you with the appropriate letters? Of course. But if you don’t want to hire me, hire someone else. The important point is to ensure that management does not ignore reasonable accommodation and modification requests from your residents. If you do that, then you will really need to find a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.