October 9, 2009

Fair Housing Act Requires Boards to Accommodate Disabled Residents

The Fair Housing Act requires condominium and homeowners associations to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities to allow them to use and enjoy their homes. Any necessary modifications to the property should be performed at the disabled person’s expense. If an association refuses to make a reasonable accommodation, federal agencies can get involved to enforce the law and levy penalties.

In August, the U.S. Justice Department announced a $35,000 settlement with the Valley View Apartments in Longview, Washington. A handicapped tenant had asked to use two adjacent parking spaces until a handicapped-accessible space became available. The association refused to grant this request and began eviction proceedings. This proved to be a very expensive course of action when the tenant fought back with a complaint alleging discrimination against disabled persons in violation the Fair Housing Act.

In September, an administrative law judge ordered the Astralis Condominium Association in Carolina, Puerto Rico to provide accessible parking spaces to two disabled residents and pay $25,000. The judge determined that the association violated the Fair Housing Act by denying the residents’ request to use available handicapped-accessible parking spaces near their unit. The judge also concluded that the association harassed the residents by placing stickers on their car windows and filing a lawsuit to prevent them from using the handicapped parking spaces.

Responding to fair housing complaints can be expensive and stressful even when no misconduct has taken place. Boards should work with disabled residents when those individuals seek to modify the property to suit their needs, and boards should preserve written evidence of their efforts to do so. It may be possible for a board to identify alternative solutions that are less disruptive to the other owners than the original proposal.