As the reasonable accommodation rules under the Fair Housing Act* continue to receive national press and more tenants use the rules to ask landlords to accommodate their special needs, it makes sense for landlords to codify their response to reasonable accommodation requests in order to maintain consistency.

To ensure consistency when it comes to a property manager’s enforcement of reasonable accommodation policies, we have drafted a set of common sense rules to serve as a guide and adapted by landlords. Note: The suggested rules discussed below do not apply to low income government delivered or tax credit properties. Those properties have additional rules that need to be followed. 

Tenants May Request Changes in Housing Policies to Accommodate Disabilities

Tenants and/or applicants have the right to request a change in the rules, regulations, practices, or procedures of the property they want to live in if they have a disability and the requested change will better enable them to use and enjoy the property they rent.  Common reasonable accommodation requests include, but are not limited to: 

  • ·         Designation of a handicap parking space
  • ·         Installation of grab bars in the bathroom
  • ·         Installation of a wheelchair ramp
  • ·         Installation of a flashing light smoke detector for a hearing impaired tenant
  • ·         Accommodation of a service or companion animal
  • ·         Release from a rental agreement without a lease break penalty  

If a tenant asks you if they can modify their unit or have an accommodation to a community rule because of their disability, your response should be: “We’ll be happy to consider that.  Can you please submit a request for a reasonable accommodation/modification to help us understand the need better?  We have a form to use for your convenience.”

Make sure the tenant provides the name, address, telephone number and email address for the third party professional who will verify that the applicant/resident is disabled and needs the accommodation requested.

NOTE:  You should never ask the tenant what their disability is.  The tenant’s medical professional will indicate if the tenant has a disability, and if their request would help them to more fully use and enjoy the property that they are renting, or will rent. 

Keep in mind that just because a request has been made, it doesn’t mean the landlord has to say yes.  The key word in this process is “reasonable.”  Tell the tenant that once the completed reasonable accommodation request is reviewed by the corporate office, the tenant or applicant household will receive a written approval or denial issued from the corporate office.  Make sure their current and correct contact information is included in their request and in the property management client database. 

Procedures

1.      Obtain the request in writing to ensure that all parties agree on the accommodation that has been requested and that the documentation of the request exists for future reference. 

2.      Address the request for reasonable accommodation/modification as soon as possible (within five days after receipt to the main business office).   A significant delay can be viewed as denial.  

3.      Require verification for all requests if the need is not visually obvious.  For example, when a resident who uses a wheelchair requests a parking spot close to the resident’s front door, the resident’s disability and need for accommodation is obvious.  This situation does not warrant the need for obtaining verification from a third party.   If a similar request is made by a person who does not have an obvious mobility impairment, you may need to request that the resident’s need for accommodation be verified by a third party professional.  Create a policy that when the need is not visually obvious you will need to verify with a third party professional. Use a consistent form. 

4.      All reasonable accommodation / modification requests will be reviewed and approved or denied by the property/portfolio manager, director of residential services and the upper management team of the property management company.  Notification of approval or denial will be provided from the corporate office to the tenant or applicant household in writing within five working days after the request is received by the corporate office.   

5.      No request should be rejected without first offering an alternative in writing.  Rather than merely rejecting the resident’s request, which might enable the resident to accuse management of failing to accommodate, it makes more sense to offer an alternative accommodation that can provide the landlord with a defense in the event of a complaint, even if the resident rejects the offer.   

6.      For conventional properties (not federally financed), landlords must allow the tenants/applicant, to make reasonable modifications at their cost. Typically, modifications at the resident’s expense are approved unless the resident cannot verify his need for the modification, the modification creates a structural or safety problem for the building, or it makes the space unusable by other patrons of the property. 

7.      If the modifications of the property might interfere with the next resident’s use of the apartment, the resident must agree to return the interior of the apartment to its unaltered condition upon the termination of the lease. 

8.      When the final determination is made on the resident’s request, the decision of the accommodation or modification will be documented by a letter to the tenant or applicant.  

9.      All requests (accepted as well as rejected) for accommodation or modification will be saved in the tenant’s file for future review if necessary. 

Additions to Accommodation Policies

The following language can be adapted or added to existing policies and agreements:

The Landlord (your company name here) complies with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This property will comply with any legislation protecting the individual rights of tenants, applicants, and/or staff that may subsequently be enacted.

The Landlord (your company name here) does not discriminate against persons with disabilities in its services and structures, provides equal opportunity to all persons with disabilities, and provides accommodations to meet the needs of persons with disabilities upon request, if the accommodation is both reasonable and financially feasible.

Lease Break Fees:  If a tenant has provided documentation of a Reasonable Accommodation being necessary by their medical professional, specifically with a need to vacate their unit due to medical reasons, it is common sense not to charge a lease break fee or require 30 day notice.  

Summary

The purpose of this article was to help landlords and property owners plan, develop and implement policies that will guide property managers in the consistent support of tenants who qualify for reasonable accommodations due to disabilities.  Consistency in polices translates into meeting fair housing requirements fairly and equitably for every tenant.

I encourage you to be consistent with your policies and protect your onsite and portfolio managers by developing clear and easy to follow rules.

P.S.  Don’t forget to  run your policies by your favorite fair housing attorney to make sure the rules have not changed as they so often do in Washington D.C.   

*Resources

Authors Note: The author thanks the Fair Housing Institute for the use of their resources in the writing of this article.

http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/huddojstatement.pdf  Joint HUD and Justice department release that clarifies reasonable accommodations under the fair housing act.

http://www.fairhouse.net/library/article.php?id=39  Create a Reasonable Accommodations Policy for Your Property

http://www.justice.gov/jmd/eeos/manual-and-procedures-providing-reasonable-accommodation

http://www.fhrc.org/HRAC_Brochure.pdf  

Clifford A. Hockley is President of Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services, greater Portland’s full service real estate brokerage and property management company..  He is a Certified Property Manager and has achieved his Certified Commercial Investment Member designation (CCIM).  Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services is an Accredited Management Organization (AMO) by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).