A Fair Housing Defense Blog reader (thank you very much) sent me a question which I decided to respond to with this blog post. In our Fair Housing Act (FHA) compliance and litigation world of today (whether dealing with reasonable modification requests, reasonable accommodation requests, or design and construction requirements), we work to ensure that those with a “disability” can enjoy the full benefit of their housing. The text of the FHA, however, uses the term “handicap” instead of “disability.” Is there is legal distinction between the two terms in the professional property ownership/management world? Is there some significance to the different terminology? Was Congress trying to mean something different?
The answer is: No. Indeed, while the text of the fair housing law uses the term “handicap,” case law has made clear that both “disability” and “handicap” have the same legal meaning. See Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624, 631 (1998) (in which the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the definition of “disability” in the Americans with Disabilities Act is almost verbatim “from the definition of ‘handicap’ contained in the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988”). As such, every other court to my knowledge which has since addressed the issue (as well as the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) have all reached the same conclusion.
Why the difference? Most likely because over time the term “disability” has simply become more generally accepted when contrasted with “handicap” over time. Hope that helps.
Just A Thought.