The Federal Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing. One of the many protections of the Fair Housing Act is the right of individuals with disabilities to request a reasonable accommodation in the policies, practices, or services of a housing provider.
Whenever a person submits a request that a policy, practice, or service be changed or modified in some way to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, such a request is a reasonable accommodation request.
Under 42 U.S. Code 3604, “A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces."
Who can request a reasonable accommodation in housing?
Disabled individuals may request a reasonable accommodation in housing.
As discussed in an earlier session, “a person is considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of their major life activities, if they have a record of having such an impairment, or if they are regarded as having such an impairment. However, the definition of disabled does not include the illegal use of, or addiction to, a controlled substance.”
Reasonable accommodation request examples
These policy changes can include making reasonable exception or adjustments for emotional support animals.
The fair housing rules provide several examples in which a reasonable accommodation would need to be granted to a disabled individual:
- a tenant who is blind and requires the use of a seeing-eye dog at a property that prohibits pets;
- a tenant with a mobility impairment who requires a parking space be reserved for them near their dwelling; and
- a tenant with a mental disability, who is afraid to leave her residence, to be allowed to pay their rent by mail even though the housing provider requires that the rent must be paid in person at the rental office.
These are all reasonable accommodation requests.
The relationship of necessity
To demonstrate an accommodation might be necessary, there must be a relationship between the requested accommodation and the person's protected class or disabilitya The nexus "links" the disability problem, to the accommodation solution.
For example, a consumer might ask for a rental payment “Give me until the 5th because my disability check doesn’t arrive until then.”
As you see, the relationship here is apparent. The tenant isn’t seeking a rewrite of the rules, merely asking for a reasonable exception to a practice.
When and how must a request be made?
The Fair Housing Act says reasonable accommodation requests can be made at any time and by any means.
HUD rules state, “Housing providers must give appropriate consideration to reasonable accommodation requests even if the requester makes the request verbally or does not use the provider's preferred forms or procedures for making such requests.”
A reasonable accommodation in housing may be requested either writing or orally, and the words “reasonable accommodation” do not need to be used by the individual submitting the request. Requests do not require specific forms or to follow formal procedures. It can be done verbally, by text, email, voicemail, letter, or phone -- there is no set standard for making a request.
We suggest reasonable accommodation requests be made in writing, which will allow the consumer to have a copy in case there is a dispute regarding the request.
There is no specific process or deadline stated. Sooner versus later is always a good practice.
In the end, anytime a new accommodation is required, it can be requested. It can be requested in any way, however it is best in writing, either by certified letter or electronic communication.
Who must grant reasonable accommodation requests?
A reasonable accommodation request may be submitted to any person or entity necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including but not limited to:
- associations property owners
- public agencies
What process must be used in considering a reasonable accommodation?
Blanket policies for receiving reasonable accommodation requests are not permitted, and each request must be considered on a case-by-case basis – thus allowing for a determination to be made whether the granting of the request is necessary to afford the person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling.
As previously mentioned, the request can be made at any time and in any fashion, but written requests are the best.
If a request is denied, it could be considered a violation of the Fair Housing Act if the denial was given without any sort of discussion about alternative ways to accommodate a request related to a person’s disability. A blanket denial, without any discussion, could be considered a hostile or harassing action, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. That could land a landlord in court.
To be clear, it is the housing provider's responsibility to exhaust every reasonable pathway available to grant the accommodation. A simple "no" is not acceptable. With the interactive dialogue, both landlord and tenant must cooperate while working out the requested accommodation exception.
Negotiation is encouraged and shows good faith.
Interactive dialogue example
Suppose a disabled tenant is seeking an exception of the pet rules at an apartment complex and submits the following reasonable accommodation request.
“I'm disabled and suffer from a mental anxiety disorder that substantially limits my ability to sleep. My dog Mollie is my assistance animal. She reduces my anxiety so that I can sleep.”
“Please provide an exception to your pet rules so that I can live with Mollie to enjoy the benefits of fair housing.”
Regardless of how this request is made, the law requires a two-way dialogue. A housing provider has a right to verify the tenant’s need for the special accommodation that makes it possible for them to enjoy the same rights as those without a disability.
Again, the method of submission cannot be considered, nor can the request be denied because the tenant did not use the property’s forms provided by the property owner or manager.
How quickly should reasonable accommodation requests be considered?
Reasonable accommodation requests must be promptly acknowledged. An excessive, vague, or unjustified delay could be deemed to be a failure to provide the reasonable accommodation.
What types of information may be required to be provided?
If the individual who requested a reasonable accommodation has a disability that is obvious and if the need for the requested accommodation is obvious, the person receiving the reasonable accommodation request may not request any additional information.
For those disabilities that are not as obvious, such as certain mental infirmities, housing providers may request information that to verify the individual is disabled as defined by the FHA. However, the housing provider is prohibited from inquiring into the specifics or severity of the individual’s disability.
Additionally, housing providers can demand information that shows the relationship between the individual’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation.
Who can verify the disability?
This information can often be provided by the individual who has requested the accommodation, such as by submitting proof that the individual receives disability benefits or by submitting a credible statement by the individual.
This information can also be verified by:
- a doctor or other medical professional
- a mental health care professional
- non-medical service agency,
- a peer support group,
- or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.
When can a reasonable accommodation request be denied?
A reasonable accommodation request can be denied if there is no disability-related need for the accommodation or the request was not made on behalf of a person with a disability.
A reasonable accommodation request can also be denied if it is not “reasonable.”. A reasonable accommodation request is not “reasonable” if it imposes a fundamental alteration of the program or poses an undue administrative or financial burden upon the housing provider.
For example, requesting that an assistance animal be allowed in the community pool due to the animal’s arthritic condition and age might not be a reasonable request - it is not for the disabled person’s benefit, and may pose health and cleanliness risks to other residents.
Is an an assistance animal in “no pets” housing a reasonable accommodation?
An individual may request a reasonable accommodation to have an emotional support animal if it provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of the individual’s disability.
May a housing provider require extra rent or fees as a condition for having an assistance animal?
A housing provider may not require different rent or impose a security deposit or other lease terms because of an individual’s disability. Further, a housing provider may not require an individual with a disability to pay an extra deposit or “pet fee” as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation.
May a housing provider require that an assistance animal be trained?
Federal laws protect all kinds of assistance animals and there is no specified training requirement for an assistance animal to be recognized as such. The individual with a disability cannot be required to show that the animal has received any specialized training.
Whether the designation of “assistance animal” truly meets the law’s requirements can only be determined on a case-by-case basis and by certified professionals with expertise in the disability cited in the need for accommodation.
What about breed, size or weight restrictions?
A housing provider may not impose such blanket restrictions on assistance animals. A housing provider must approve an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation if keeping that animal is “practical” and “feasible.”
A reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal can be denied if:
- the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation
- the animal would cause substantial damage to the property or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by another reasonable accommodation
A housing provider may not rely on a particular state or local ordinance banning certain breeds of animals as a basis not to provide a reasonable accommodation. Further, having an assistance animal does not absolve one of responsibility, either. If the assistance animal harms another person or property, the owner will most likely be liable for that damage and in certain extreme instances, may have to relinquish the assistance animal to law enforcement.
Can a housing provider restrict areas?
An individual with a disability who has an assistance animal can take the animal in all areas of the premises where persons are generally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue administrative or financial burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.
A housing provider may not stop a person with a disability from taking their assistance animal out of the building and onto the common areas of the property.