Melanie Kibble, Vice President of Compliance at Mercy Housing Management Group, spoke about the Fair Housing requirements related to providing reasonable accommodation for persons with a disability at Lightengale Group’s Fair Housing Seminar in January. In part one, we’ll look at what reasonable accommodations are, and who pays for their associated costs.
What Counts as “Disabled”
Federal laws define disabled as “Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a change to the physical structure or to a policy that is directly related to accommodating a person’s disability so that the disabled person has fair and equal access to the housing. Changes to physical structures are items such as painting an apartment a specific color for someone with a mental disability or soundproofing the apartment for a person with Tourette syndrome who uncontrollably yells profanity.
Changes to policies include items such as modifying admission/eviction criteria if the reason the person did not meet the criteria was directly related to their disability (for example, the applicant was arrested when having a schizophrenic episode before knowing how to treat the illness with medication). The request for the modification must be directly related to the disability.
Who Pays for Costs of Reasonable Accommodation
If the tenant lives in a federally funded (has HOME / CDBG, project-based vouchers, PRAC / etc.) project, the full cost of the reasonable accommodation must be paid by the property unless it creates an undue financial or administrative burden for the property.
When evaluating financial burden, HUD will evaluate all income and reserves the property has to see if the cost can be afforded. For example, if a reasonable accommodation for a single resident costs $30,000 and the property has $100,000 in reserves with no major capital needs identified, that cost would likely be seen as reasonable. All federally funded properties must also have a designated 504 Coordinator to handle all reasonable accommodation requests.
If the building/development does not have any federal funding, the tenant is responsible to pay for the costs of the physical modification, and the tenant may also be responsible for removing the modification when they leave. The development is responsible for the costs of maintaining the modification (such as shoveling the snow off the ramp).
Documenting the Need for Reasonable Accommodation
When the disability is obvious (physical mobility, hearing, sight, etc.) and the need for accommodation is obvious (request for ramp, sign language interpreter, Seeing Eye dog), the property manager may not request any other documentation. However, when either the disability or the need for the accommodation is not obvious (person requests companion dog in a no-pets building or person in wheelchair requests their apartment be painted all bright orange), then it is appropriate to document that the person has a disability and the request for accommodation is directly related to that disability.
This verification will come from a third party professional (doctor, therapist, etc.) that knows the individual and is in a position to know the relationship. See the HUD Procedures for Providing Reasonable Accommodation.
Look for part two of this series, in which we’ll look at support animals, parking spaces, transfers, and dialogue about options for reasonable accommodation.