Last week, I got a demand letter from counsel for a resident concerning a reasonable accommodation request. That’s fine as they come in all the time. At the end of the letter, counsel demanded that we respond within three days or the lawyer will summarily conclude we denied the accommodation request. It irritates me when I see letters like this. Yes, management must evaluate and respond to every reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request received from a resident or applicant (as well as someone acting on behalf of a resident or applicant). And our response must be sent within a “reasonable” time. But a three day turnaround time? Really?

Which begs the question – just what is a “reasonable” time? In my experience, absolutely within a week to 10 days is fine. Two weeks is also not unreasonable. Cracking three weeks and then a month is a bit more problematic for management. Is it possible that an emergency request might require a three day response time? I guess, but that would be the exception, not the rule.

What to do? My best practice is to have your leasing office send an interim response noting we have the request and we are reviewing it. That provides us with a little additional time if necessary while ensuring no claim will exist that we are ignoring the request. Again, we certainly do not necessarily have to grant every request, but we absolutely must review and respond to every request. Or run the risk of winding up as Respondents/Defendants in a fair housing case.  Hope that makes sense.

Just A Thought.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that a disability discrimination claim from California settled for $8,500. The agreement resolved a complaint filed by a resident with a disability asserting discrimination under the Fair Housing Act related to an assistance animal. In the complaint, the resident alleged that she was threatened with eviction because she had an emotional support animal.

The matter came to HUD after the resident filed a complaint alleging the property manager told her that she could not keep her dog and threatened to evict her.  The resident further noted that she previously  provided a medical verification confirming her need for the assistance animal. The complaint also alleged that after receiving an eviction notice, the resident vacated the home. As there are always two sides to every case, the housing providers deny that they discriminated against the woman.

As is typical in cases like this, in additional to writing a check, the housing providers are required to provide fair housing training to their management and leasing staff.

The takeaway? As a management company or leasing office staff member reviewing a reasonable accommodation request, for disabilities that are not obvious, we simply seek credible medical verification (something that is not a form letter purchased over the Internet for the low, low price of $69.99 [or $125 if you need it overnight] and/or a certificate from a nationwide animal registry) attesting to the fact that the resident is disabled, needs an assistance animal, and that there is a nexus (or link) between the animal and the disability.

If you have questions about a medical verification, you might want to speak with a lawyer like me to better evaluate how to appropriately respond to your resident.  Or you might wind up as a Respondent in a fair housing case.

Just A Thought.