The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency tasked with enforcing discrimination laws, recently issued a statement announcing that a number of landlords across the country have been penalized for discrimination against tenants with disabilities.
Often, these cases are precipitated by a lack of understanding of the laws that protect tenants with disabilities, and mistakes made when managing rental properties. Landlords who attempt to apply tenant screening and property management policies generally to all tenants could soon find themselves at odds with the law.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate when renting based on disability. This includes discriminating against any person in the “terms, conditions, or privileges” of rental of a home, or in the services or facilities related to the housing, because of a disability.
This requires making “reasonable accommodations” in rules, policies, practices, or services so that tenants with disabilities can enjoy the same benefits as other tenants. A common example is waiving pet policies for tenants who need companion animals. Another common issue is providing accessibility of units and common areas.
“We continue to see more cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities than any other type,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “It is unacceptable that individuals with disabilities have to fight for the opportunity to live where they want, or to have reasonable accommodations extended to them so they can enjoy their dwelling. The cases we’re announcing today reflect our ongoing commitment to leveling the playing field for all Americans when it comes to housing.”
HUD says that in 2013, almost 54 percent of the complaints filed (4,426) alleged housing discrimination based on disability.
Some recent cases include:
A married couple, who filed a complaint alleging that a homeowner association unreasonably delayed and denied their request for approval of disability-related modifications needed for their home because the husband uses a wheelchair, will receive $42,290 in compensation, and the association will develop new policies and procedures that are consistent with the Fair Housing Act.
HUD charged the owners of an apartment complex in San Francisco with discrimination for initially refusing to allow a tenant with disabilities to keep an emotional support animal. Even after the tenant presented the owners with medical documentation attesting to her need for the animal, the owners refused to grant her reasonable accommodation request. As a result of the refusal, the tenant sent the animal to live with a friend. The owners ultimately granted the tenant the accommodation, but only after the tenant was forced to live without her support animal for approximately five months, which doctors say caused psychological duress.
The owner and operator of a 500-unit HUD-subsidized apartment complex in DeKalb, Illinois has agreed to pay $255,000 to settle allegations that it violated fair housing laws when it failed to meet the needs of persons with disabilities and retaliated against a resident with disabilities for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
The landlord was accused of violating the law by assigning a mobility impaired resident to a third-floor unit in a building with no elevator, and threatened her with eviction for having her adult daughter, who was serving as her caregiver, in the unit, even though she had documentation verifying her disability and need for the accommodation. The landlord receives federal financial assistance from HUD in the form of project-based vouchers.
In addition to paying the penalty, which includes attorney fees, the complex will conduct a needs assessment of current tenants and applicants who require assessable units to determine if their needs are being met and ensure that five percent of its units are fully accessible, either by constructing new units or converting existing units.
A woman who was terminated from her job at an independent living facility allegegly because she raised fair housing concerns about the company’s policy of monitoring the health of applicants and residents will receive $35,000 in compensation. Fair housing testers found practices that included the regular and uniform collection of medical data of applicants and current residents and “gate-keeping” practices in which residents who had to leave their units for hospital stays were not allowed to return or remain in their units once they were deemed not “independent” enough. In addition to compensating the woman, the landlord will alter its policies to no longer require residents returning from hospital stays to undergo a “gatekeeping review” or provide medical information. This case represents the first time these rules where applied to an independent living facility.
HUD charged a condo association and the owners of a condominium complex in Londonderry, NH, along with the property management company,five members of the condominium association and two individuals who worked for the management company with violating the Fair Housing Act when they denied a resident with disabilities’ request to be allowed to use the visitor parking space in front of his unit as a reasonable accommodation. The designated parking space that had been assigned to the resident, who has difficulty climbing stairs, was behind his building and could only be accessed via a staircase with nine steps.
Knowledge is power when it comes to managing your rental properties. If you have questions about reasonable accommodation, companion animal requests or other issues, consult an attorney to assist you in developing rental management policies that best serve tenants with disabilities.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.