Condo associations deal with a variety of requests from their residents on a daily basis. In most cases, the association can easily decide whether or not to grant the request based on the cost, feasibility and necessity when it comes to onsite property management. However, when requests made by residents involve accommodations for a disability, the situation becomes more complicated.
The Federal Fair Housing Act
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, disabled individuals are entitled to an equal opportunity to enjoy their homes. The act requires condo boards and other housing providers to grant reasonable accommodation requests made by handicapped residents. In addition, the act also requires condo boards to respond to requests made for accommodations in a timely manner.
The Federal Fair Housing Act defines “reasonable accommodations” that permit handicapped residents to enjoy their homes without causing extreme administrative or financial burdens to the condo association. Because there are no hard and fast rules for determining whether a resident’s request is reasonable, condo associations must consider each request on an individual basis.
Before a condo association is legally required to consider a request, the requester must show the board that he has a disability or impairment, such as blindness or the inability to walk, that makes the accommodation necessary. If the requester is able to demonstrate this need, the board must consider accommodating it. When considering the request, the board should factor in the cost, amount of work required and any alternative accommodations that could be pursued. If the board chooses to deny the request, it must be able to show clear evidence that making the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive for the board to handle. Otherwise, a court may force the board to comply with the resident’s request.
Assessing Questionable Requests
Many requests, such as the request for a wheelchair ramp, are obviously reasonable. In cases such as this where the disability is apparent, condo boards are not permitted to request further information and must comply with the request if at all possible.
However, the appropriate response to some requests, such as the request for an emotional support animal in the home, isn’t always clear. When requests are questionable, the Federal Fair Housing Act allows condo boards to request more information from the resident in question, such as documentation from a doctor that supports the need for accommodation.
Regardless of the nature of a resident’s request, condo boards should proceed with caution. Discrimination lawsuits can be very expensive, especially if the court finds in favor of the resident. Outright rejection of requests almost always results in a lawsuit, so condo boards should follow an established procedure for assessing each request presented. Procedures should include a formal review of the request, its necessity and its feasibility. Before denying any request, condo associations should consult with a qualified attorney who has experience in the industry, and they should draft a written response to the resident that details the reasons for the denial.