The Federal Fair Housing Act: When is an Accomodation Reasonable and Can a Landlord Deny a Request? Part 2

June 10, 2011 | | Articles | No Comments

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series.  Part 1 of this blog series discussed the Fair Housing Act’s definition of disability and the requirements for landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants and can be found here…dations-part-1/

How can a landlord be sure that the requested accommodation is reasonable?

To determine that an accommodation is reasonable and necessary, there must be an identifiable relationship, or nexus, between the disability and the accommodation requested.  Generally, these relationships are obvious, in which case the landlord or property manager must make reasonable accommodations without further information regarding the disability.

If the disability is obvious or known but the need for the accommodation is not obvious, the landlord or property manager may request additional information in order to evaluate the need for the accommodation.  An example would be a wheelchair bound person requesting permission for a service dog in a no-pets building.  The landlord or property manager may ask for information regarding the need for the dog as it pertains to using and enjoying the rental unit.

Cases where the disability is not known or obvious are more complicated.  Generally, a landlord or property manager cannot ask about the nature of a disability.  If asked to make an accommodation, the landlord or property manager may ask for reliable information that the tenant meets the Act’s definition for disability, a description of the accommodation, and the relationship between the disability and the accommodation.

Many landlords are concerned about abuses of this provision and fear that tenants will abuse the Act in order to have animals when they are otherwise prohibited.  The key to reducing the possibility of fraudulent claimants is reliable information. Often the verifying information will come from the tenant but could also be from a doctor, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.

Can a landlord legally deny a request for an accommodation?

A request for an accommodation can be denied if the accommodation creates an undue hardship or administrative or financial burden on the housing provider, or creates a fundamental alteration to the nature of the housing provider’s business.  The threshold for “undue hardship” is largely a function of the cost of the accommodation and the resources of the landlord.

A fundamental alteration is a change to the nature of the landlords business.  Asking the landlord or property manager to send a staff person to the parking lot to carry groceries would be a fundamental alteration if the landlord did not typically provide valet service to all tenants.  If the landlord denies the request for an accommodation, they should discuss alternatives that may meet the needs of the requester without placing an undue burden on the landlord.

Part 3 will discuss special cases involving disabled persons that pose a threat to others, illegal users of controlled substances, juvenile offenders, and sex offenders. The full text of the 2004 guidance statement issued jointly by the Department of Justice and the Department of Urban Development can be downloaded at

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