Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act

From the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations are necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. 

The Fair Housing Act’s protection against disability discrimination covers not only tenants and home seekers with disabilities but also buyers and renters without disabilities who live or are associated with individuals with disabilities. The Act also prohibits housing providers from refusing residency to persons with disabilities, or placing conditions on their residency, because they require reasonable accommodations.  Since rules, policies, practices, and services may have a different effect on persons with disabilities than on others, treating persons with disabilities exactly the same as others will sometimes deny them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

Who must comply with this requirement?

The requirement to provide reasonable accommodations applies to, but is not limited to individuals, corporations, associations and others involved in the provision of housing or  residential lending, including property owners, housing managers, homeowners and condominium associations, lenders, real estate agents, and brokerage services. This also applies to state and local governments, most often in the context of exclusionary zoning or other land-use decisions

Who is a person with a disability?

The Fair Housing Act defines a person with a disability to include (1) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and (3) individuals with a record of such an impairment.

This may include, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection,  mental illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of a controlled substance) and alcoholism.

The term “major life activity” means those activities that are of central importance to daily life, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, and speaking.8 This list of major life activities is not exhaustive. 

When is a reasonable accommodation necessary?

A requested accommodation is necessary when there is an identifiable relationship, or nexus, between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability.  Some examples of Reasonable Accommodations are:

  • Assigned parking space for a person with a mobility impairment
  • Assigned lower mailbox for a person who uses a wheelchair
  • Permitting an assistance animal in a “no pets building for a person who is deaf, blind, has seizures, or has a mental disability

What is an assistance animal?

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support.

For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified.5 While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

What information may a provider seek when a reasonable accommodation request is made?

A provider is entitled to obtain information that is necessary to evaluate if a requested reasonable accommodation may be necessary because of a disability.

If a person’s disability is obvious, or otherwise known to the provider, and if the need for the requested accommodation is also readily apparent or known, then the provider may not request any additional information.  If the disability and/or the disability-related reason for the requested accommodation is not known or obvious, the requesting individual, medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability may also provide verification of a disability.

In most cases, an individual’s medical records or detailed information about the nature of a person’s disability is not necessary for this inquiry.

When may a housing provider refuse to provide a requested accommodation?

A housing provider can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation if the request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability or if there is no disability-related need for the accommodation.

In addition, a request for a reasonable accommodation may be denied if providing the accommodation is not reasonable – i.e., if it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operations. The determination of undue financial and administrative burden must be made on a case-by-case basis involving various factors, such as the cost of the requested accommodation, the financial resources of the provider, the benefits that the accommodation would provide to the requester, and the availability of alternative accommodations that would effectively meet the requester’s disability-related needs.

When a housing provider refuses a requested accommodation because it is not reasonable, the provider should discuss with the requester whether there is an alternative accommodation that would effectively address the requester’s disability-related needs without a fundamental alteration to the provider’s operations and without imposing an undue financial and administrative burden.  These discussions often results in an effective accommodation for the requester that does not pose an undue financial and administrative burden for the provider.

What about charging fees to cover the cost of providing an accommodation?

Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation.

Fair Housing Act Cases from HUD on Reasonable Accommodations

HUD Charges Santa FE, New Mexico, Property Owner With Discriminating Against Tenant With Disabilities (Emotional Support Animal)

HUD CHARGES SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO, PROPERTY OWNER WITH DISCRIMINATING AGAINST TENANT WITH DISABILITIES

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging a Santa Fe, New Mexico landlord with housing discrimination for refusing to allow a renter with disabilities to keep her emotional support animal and to have her daughter reside with her. HUD’s charge further alleges that Paula Anderson threatened to evict the woman if she did not get rid of her support animal and have her daughter move out. The woman’s daughter provided her with disability-related assistance.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with a disability requires such accommodations, including refusing to allow a live-in aide and refusing to grant waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who require assistance or support animals. Additionally, the law makes it unlawful to make housing unavailable to any person because of a disability.

“Housing providers need to understand that support animals are not pets, they provide persons with disabilities the stability needed to perform life’s everyday activities,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to grant reasonable accommodations and HUD is committed to taking action if they fail to meet that obligation.”

The case came to HUD’s attention when the woman, who has a psychological disability, filed a complaint with HUD alleging that Anderson refused to allow her daughter to live with her, even though her daughter assists her with tasks made difficult by her disability. Anderson also allegedly refused to allow the womanto keep an emotional support animal. In addition, Anderson allegedly threatened to evict the woman unless both her daughter and the assistance animal moved out, despite the fact that the woman provided medical documentation verifying her condition and need for the assistance her daughter and support animal provided.

The woman ultimately had to move out in order to live with her daughter and support animal.

Read HUD’s charge against the New Mexico property owner. (PDF)

HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the woman for the harm caused her by the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages.

In FY 2014, disability was the most common basis of complaints filed with HUD and its partner agencies, being cited as a basis for 4,606 complaints, or 54 percent of the overall total.

Read HUD’s notice regarding service or companion animals. (PDF)

Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

HUD Charges Brooklyn Co-Op with Discriminating Against Disabled Veteran (Emotional Support Animal)

HUD CHARGES BROOKLYN CO-OP WITH DISCRIMINATING AGAINST DISABLED VETERAN

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it has charged a 1,144-unit Coney Island cooperative development and the president of its board of directors with housing discrimination for refusing to allow a veteran with a psychiatric disability to keep an emotional support animal. HUD is charging Trump Village IV and Igor Oberman, the President of the Trump Village IV Board of Directors, with wrongfully denying the veteran’s request for a reasonable accommodation and taking steps to evict him and his wife in retaliation for filing a fair housing complaint.

Read HUD’s charge. (pdf)

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with adisability requires such an accommodation, including refusing to grant waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who use assistance or support animals.

“For many people with disabilities, support animals are essential to their ability to perform everyday activities that others take for granted,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to grant reasonable accommodations, and HUD is committed to taking action if they fail to meet that obligation.”

The case came to HUD’s attention when the veteran and his wife filed a complaint alleging that Trump Village IV and Oberman refused to allow the veteran to keep an emotional support animal and pursued eviction proceedings, despite the fact that he provided medical documentation verifying his condition and need for the dog.

The veteran and his wife also alleged that Trump Village IV retaliated against them for filing their complaint by freezing their place on the wait list for parking in the development’s main parking lot and removing the wife from the co-op’s board of directors.

HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

Click here to read HUD’s notice regarding service or companion animals.

Persons who believe they have been discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability, or denied a reasonable accommodation request may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

HUD Finds that Puerto Rico Condo Association Discriminated against Resident with Disabilities (Emotional Support Animal)

HUD FINDS THAT PUERTO RICO CONDO ASSOCIATION DISCRIMINATED AGAINST RESIDENT WITH DISABILITIES

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today it has ordered Castillo Condominium Association, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to pay $20,000 in damages plus a $16,000 civil penalty after finding that the association violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to allow a resident with disabilities to keep his emotional support animal.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when such an accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy his or her home. This includes refusing to grant waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who use assistance or support animals.

“Assistance animals are not pets. Persons with disabilities often depend on them in order carry out life’s daily functions,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “This Order reaffirms HUD’s commitment to taking appropriate action when federal fair housing law has been violated.”

The case came to HUD’s attention when a resident of Castillo Condominiums filed a complaint alleging that the condominium’s homeowner association discriminated against him when it denied his request to keep an emotional support animal in his unit, even though he presented documentation from his healthcare provider identifying his disability and his need for the animal. Pets were allowed when the resident initially bought his unit in 1995, but the condominium association had adopted a “no-pets” policy before the resident adopted his emotional support animal. As a result of being denied the right to have a support animal, the man experienced depression and anxiety and he was forced to sell the home he had lived in for almost 20 years.

HUD’s Order modifies a previous HUD Administrative Law Judge decision that ordered Castillo Condominium Association to pay only $3,000 in emotional distress damages and a $2,000 civil penalty. The HUD order ruled that a higher damages award and civil penalty are necessary in light of the seriousness of the violation and complainant’s injuries.

Click here to read HUD’s notice regarding service or companion animals. (PDF)

Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may contact HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed at www.hud.gov/fairhousing or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

HUD Charges Kent State University with Housing Discrimination for Refusing to Allow Support Animal in Campus Housing

HUD CHARGES KENT STATE UNIVERSITY WITH HOUSING DISCRIMINATION FOR REFUSING TO ALLOW SUPPORT ANIMAL IN CAMPUS HOUSING

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it has charged Kent State University, in Kent, OH, and four of its employees with housing discrimination for refusing to allow a student with disabilities to keep an emotional support animal in her campus apartment.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with adisability requires such an accommodation, including refusing to grant waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who use assistance or support animals.

“Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The Fair Housing Act protects their right to the support they need and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.”

HUD’s charge stems from complaints that were filed by a Kent State University student and her husband and Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), Inc., a non-profit advocacy organization based in Akron, OH. The student and her husband lived in university-owned and operated housing that is set aside for upperclassmen and their families. A university psychologist treating the student documented her disabilities and wrote a letter stating that the best way for the student to cope with her disabilities was having a support animal. The student subsequently obtained a dog and submitted a reasonable accommodation request to the university seeking a waiver to the apartment complex’s “no pets” rule.

In her complaint, the student alleged that the university offered her academic accommodations, which she did not need, but denied her request to keep her support animal. As a result of the denial, the student and her husband were forced to move to an apartment the university did not own. Shortly after the move, the student and her husband contacted FHAA.

HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the woman and her husband for the harm caused them by the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages.

Click here to read HUD’s notice regarding service or companion animals. (PDF)

Persons who believe they have been denied a reasonable accommodation request may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

HUD Charges the Owners of an Apartment Complex in San Francisco with Discrimination (Emotional Support Animal)