I have written in this space before that there is no complete list of just what can be included as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The reason is that every disabled individual can have different needs related to his or her specific disability. Management’s responsibility, of course, is to review and evaluate each request. That being said, there is some guidance I can provide about what makes up a valid reasonable accommodation claim and what is objectively not reasonable.
To establish a failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must prove that: (a) he (or she) is disabled within the meaning of the FHA; (b) he (or she) requested a reasonable accommodation; (c) the requested accommodation was necessary to afford him (or her) an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and (d) the defendant refused to make the accommodation.
Some disabilities are obvious. Others require medical confirmation. In seeking confirmation, management is not attempting to unnecessarily pry into the health history of our residents or applicants. We simply are required to confirm that a disability exists and that there is a nexus (link) between the disability and the sought after accommodation. The law requires management to find those accommodations that may be necessary to afford an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. An “equal opportunity” means that a disabled person must be afforded the same opportunity to use and enjoy housing as is provided to a non-disabled person. To phrase it another way, preferential treatment is not required. Another defense to these claims is that an accommodation is not reasonable if it imposes an undue financial burden on management.
How does this work in the real world? Well, in one of my cases a federal appeals court just concluded it would be unreasonable as a matter of law to require management to breach a commercial lease entered into prior to the resident moving into our community to afford the resident the specific accommodation he demanded. That court (correctly, in my view) found that the requested accommodation was simply unreasonable as it would impose an undue financial burden on management. While this result was what we believed the court would find, our preference would have been to avoid legal proceedings, engage in the interactive process with the resident, and work together to find a solution that met the needs of all.
Just A Thought.