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Housing communities, disabilities and discrimination in New York

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

Community associations can face allegations of discrimination for not providing reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities.

Federal, state and local laws are in place better ensure that housing communities are free from discriminatory practices. These laws make it illegal for landlords in Westchester County to discriminate in housing based on a tenant’s race, color, religion, age, national origin, citizenship status, familial status, gender, marital status, sex or presence of a disability. These protections extend beyond landlords and also cover real estate brokers, credit officers, and others that have the right to sell, lease or rent property or housing accommodations.

These protections are present under federal law through the Fair Housing Act. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the federal agencies that enforce the Fair Housing Act. This act includes protections against discrimination based on a refusal to 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 dwelling.”

Some examples include:

  • Parking. HUD provides the example of a housing provider that has an unassigned parking policy for residents. If a resident has a mobility impairment, the agency notes that an exception to the policy may qualify as a reasonable accommodation. As a result, the provider should allow an assigned spot that is close to the entrance to the resident’s unit. Parking accommodations can also come in the form of requesting a space large enough to accommodate a vehicle with wheelchair access.
  • Pets. Housing providers may have a “no pets” policy. However, a disabled individual that requests an exception to this policy to allow acceptance of an assistance or service animal may qualify as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Payment. Some providers require tenants to drop rental payments off at a main office. However, those with physical or mental disabilities may be unable to fulfill this policy. In these instances, an accommodation allowing the tenant to mail in payment may be reasonable.

These are just a few examples of accommodations that are often required at the federal level. The allowance of modifications may also apply. These modifications are generally completed at the expense of the tenant and housing communities may require an agreement to return the unit to its previous condition when the tenant with the disability leaves the unit. Examples could include the addition of grab bars to bathrooms and installation of a wheelchair accessible ramp to a unit.

Remedies are available

Those who allege discriminatory practices can sue for remedies. Housing providers should take these allegations seriously, as they can lead to monetary awards to the tenant including damages and civil penalties as well as punitive damages when appropriate. Community associations that are facing these allegations should seek the counsel of an experienced community association lawyer. This legal professional will review the case and work to better ensure a more favorable outcome.

Keywords: community associations real estate law