Federal Fair Housing Act and Reasonable Accommodations, Part 1

June 7, 2011 | | Articles | No Comments

Every landlord and property manager should be very familiar with the federal Fair Housing Act and the seven prohibited basis of discrimination:  race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.

With regard to disability, the Act is very specific in requiring that landlords and property managers make “reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy” a rental unit.[1] It should be noted that owner-occupants of buildings with four or fewer units are exempt from the reasonable accommodations requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Who is disabled according to the Fair Housing Act?

The Act defines a person with disability as “individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  It goes on to define “major life activities” as those activities that are of central importance to daily life, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for ones self, learning, and speaking.

The Act does protect persons recovering from substance addiction but not persons currently using controlled substances.  It also specifically does not protect disabled persons whose tenancy poses a direct threat to others or damage to the property of others.  There are several factors involved this type of situation and will be the subject of a future blog.

What does the Act consider a reasonable accommodation?

Specifically, it 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 spaces.  It is against the law to refuse to make reasonable accommodations if they are necessary for disabled persons to use and enjoy a dwelling.

There needs to be, however, a relationship between the requested accommodation and the disability.  A common accommodation is the exception to “no pets” policies for tenants needing assistance animals.  An identifiable relationship between the need for a guide dog and a tenant that is visually impaired is easily seen and the landlord would be required to make the exception.  A mobility impaired tenant would be entitled to a parking space close to their unit (if the landlord provides parking) if the tenant made the request.  The landlord may not charge the tenant any fees, require additional insurance, or demand an increased deposit in exchange for granting the accommodation.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are jointly tasked with enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.   In 2004, they issued a guidance statement for housing providers establishing Reasonable Accommodation parameters.  That statement can be downloaded at .

[1] 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B)

Integrity Plus Property Management is a San Diego based property management company specializing in single-family homes and multi-family properties for owners, investors, real estate brokers and financial institutions. To find out how we can help manage your San Diego property, check us out at

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