The Fair Housing Act
1. The Fair Housing Act – What is it?
The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 (the Fair Housing Act) is a law to administer and enforce Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which puts forth the policy of the United States to provide for fair housing throughout the United States.
2. The Fair Housing Act – What does it do?
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
3. What types of discrimination against persons with a disability does the Act prohibit?
The Act prohibits discrimination against residents or applicants because of their disability or the disability of anyone associated with them, and from treating persons with a disability less favorable than others because of their disability. The Act also makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodation may be necessary to afford persons with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
4. Who must comply with the Fair Housing Act’s Reasonable Accommodation requirements?
Courts have applied the Act to individuals, corporations, associations, property owners, housing managers, homeowners and condominium associations, lenders, real estate agents, and brokerage services.
5. What is a “Reasonable Accommodation” for purposes of the Fair Housing Act?
A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
The Act requires Homeowners and Condominium Associations to allow persons with a disability to make reasonable modifications. A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with a disability the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities. Examples of a reasonable modification would include allowing a person with a mobility disability to install a ramp into a building, to lower the threshold of a unit entrance, or to install grab bars in a bathroom tub or shower.
To show that a requested accommodation may be necessary, there must be an identifiable relationship between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability.
- Example (External modification to dwelling). A Homeowners Association has a policy to maintain a uniform or consistent external appearance of all dwellings in the Association. External modifications that alter or change the dwelling’s appearance are not permitted. A homeowner has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair. The wheelchair user is unable to negotiate the steps leading to the entrance door of the dwelling and needs a ramp to gain entrance. The Homeowners Association must make an exception to its policy of not permitting external modification to dwellings in the Association.
- Example. A Condominium Association has a policy of providing unassigned parking spaces to residents. A resident with a physical disability, who is substantially limited in the ability to walk, requests an assigned accessible parking space close to the entrance of her unit as a reasonable accommodation. There are available parking spaces near the entrance to her unit that are accessible, but those spaces are available to all residents on a first come, first served basis. The Condominium Association must make an exception to its policy of not providing assigned parking spaces to accommodate this resident.
- Example. A Condominium Association has a “no pets” policy. A resident who is deaf requests that the Association allow him to keep a service dog in his unit as a reasonable accommodation. The resident explains that the dog is a service animal that will alert him to several sounds, including knocks on the door, sounding of the smoke detector, the telephone ringing, and cars coming into the driveway. The Condominium Association must make an exception to its “no pets” policy to accommodate this resident.
6. Who qualifies as a person with a disability?
The Act defines a person with a disability to include (1) persons with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) persons who are regarded as having such an impairment; (3) persons with a record of such an impairment.
The term “major life activity” means those activities that are of central importance to daily life, such a seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, and speaking.
The term “substantially limits” suggests that the limitation is very significant or to a very large degree.
7. When and how should a person request an accommodation?
Under the Act, a resident makes a reasonable accommodation request whenever he/she makes clear to the Association that he/she is requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service because of a disability. He/she should explain what type of accommodation is being requested, and if the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent, explain the relationship between the requested accommodation and the disability.
The Act does not require that a request be made in a particular manner or at a particular time. A person making a reasonable accommodation request does not need to mention the Act, or use the words “reasonable accommodation”. However, the requester must make the request in a manner that a reasonable person would understand it to be a request for an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service because of a disability.
Although a reasonable accommodation request can be made orally or in writing, it is usually beneficial for both the resident and the Association if the request is made in writing. This will help prevent misunderstandings regarding what is being requested or whether the request was actually made.
8. What kinds of information, if any, may an Association request from a person with an obvious or known disability who is requesting a Reasonable Accommodation?
If the disability is obvious or known, and the need for the accommodation is also apparent or known, then no additional information may be requested. If the disability is known or readily apparent, but the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent or known, then the Association may request only information that is necessary to evaluate the disability-related need for the accommodation.
- Example. A Condominium resident who uses a wheelchair requests a reasonable accommodation to keep a service dog in his unit even though the Association has a “no pets” policy. The resident’s disability is readily apparent but the need for an assistance animal is not obvious. The Association may ask the resident to provide information about the disability-related need for the dog.
9. If a disability is not obvious, what kinds of information may an Association request from the person with a disability in support of a requested Accommodation?
The Association may not ordinarily inquire as to the nature and severity of a person’s disability. However, in response to a request for a Reasonable Accommodation, the Association may request reliable disability-related information that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the Act’s definition of disability, (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the disability and the need for the accommodation. Generally, this information can be provided by the person him/herself. Otherwise, a medical professional or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the disability my provide verification of a disability. In most cases, a person’s medical records or detailed information about the nature of the disability is not necessary for this inquiry.
10. What if the Homeowners or Condominium Association fails to act promptly on a request for a Reasonable Accommodation?
The Association has an obligation to provide a prompt response to a request for a Reasonable Accommodation. An undue delay in responding to a request for a Reasonable Accommodation may be deemed to be a failure to grant the request.
11. If a person believes he/she has been unlawfully denied a Reasonable Accommodation, how may that person challenge the denial under the Fair Housing Act?
When a person with a disability believes that he/she has been subjected to a discriminatory practice, including the wrongful denial of a request for a Reasonable Accommodation, he/she may file a complaint with HUD within one year after the denial or may file a lawsuit in federal district court within two years of the denial. If a complaint is filed with HUD, HUD will investigate the complaint at no expense to the person with a disability.
There are several ways that a person may file a complaint with HUD:
- By calling toll-free 1-800-669-9777 or TTY 1-800-927-9275
- By completing the “on-line” complaint form available on the HUD web site: www.hud.gov
- By mailing a completed complaint form or a letter to:
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street, SW, Room 5204
Washington, DC 20410-2000
This document has been prepared by the Disability Services and Planning Development Staff of Fairfax County. Principal sources were the Fair Housing Act under the Code of Federal Regulations, and the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice entitled Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act, dated May 17, 2004.
Questions on this document or about the Fair Housing Act may be directed to:
Disability Services Planning and Development
Fairfax County Department of Family Services
12011 Government Center Parkway, Suite 708
Fairfax, VA. 22035-1104