Under the Federal Fair Housing Act (the "Act"), community associations are prohibited from discriminating against the protected classes in the provision of services or facilities with respect to residential housing. A person who is handicapped, who suffers from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, is protected under the Act. Under the Act, community associations are required to make "reasonable accommodations" and "reasonable modifications." We find that many of our clients fail to make the distinction between these two separate and distinct obligations.
Community associations are required to provide a disabled resident with a reasonable accommodation in the rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. As such, a reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service. Let me provide you with two examples of a reasonable accommodation.
Example 1 - A community association has a policy of providing unassigned parking spaces to residents. A resident with a mobility impairment requests an assigned parking space close to the entrance to 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 community association must make an exception to its policy and provide an assigned parking space to accommodate this disabled resident.
Example 2 - A community association has a "no pets" policy. A resident who is blind requests that the community association allow her to keep a guide dog in her unit as a reasonable accommodation. The community association must make an exception to its "no pets" policy to accommodate this resident.
Community associations are required to provide a disabled resident with a reasonable modification of the existing premises to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. A reasonable modification usually involves a physical alteration (such as the installation of a ramp to permit access to a unit or a lift to permit access to a swimming pool). Premises includes both the unit or lot and the common elements or common areas of the community association. The reasonable modification to the premises is at the expense of the handicapped person. The community association may require reasonable conditions upon the approval of a reasonable modification such as requiring reasonable assurances that modifications will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any necessary permits will be obtained. The community association is required to remove a reasonable modification constructed on the common elements and common areas at its cost and expense when the resident vacates the unit.