May 21, 2004
HUD, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT RELEASE NEW "REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION" GUIDELINES
WASHINGTON - People with disabilities who require special assistance such as motorized wheelchairs and motorized carts recently had their right to such "reasonable accommodations" reinforced, thanks to new guidelines released this week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice.
The guidelines are expected to help curb instances of discrimination similar to a recent case in Chino, California, where the Hillsborough Village apartments barred the use of scooters and carts inside of the clubhouse where, among other things, residents retrieve their mail. The plaintiff in the case wanted access to the complex clubhouse and asked management to grant an exemption to the "no scooter" rule.
After the apartment management denied the request, the plaintiff contacted HUD, which referred her case to the California agency with which HUD has cooperative agreement. Eventually, the case was settled and the plaintiff was awarded $3,750 in compensation and Hillsborough Village agreed to remove their ban on scooters and carts.
The guidelines will help housing providers better understand their obligations and help persons with disabilities better understand their rights regarding the "reasonable accommodations" provision of the federal Fair Housing Act.
"Far too many housing providers and local officials still do not understand their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations even though this legal requirement has been in effect for more than a decade," said Carolyn Peoples, HUD's assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. "These guidelines explain in detail what providers are - and are not - required to do."
The FHA prohibits housing discrimination that is based on disability, race, color, religion, sex, national origin and familial status. HUD and DOJ jointly enforce the FHA.
One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the FHA is the refusal by housing providers to make "reasonable accommodations" - exceptions or modifications to 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. For example, an apartment complex with a "no dogs" rule must make an exception for a blind person who uses a guide dog.
"The reasonable accommodation provision of the Fair Housing Act is an important component of the Act's broader goal of ending the unnecessary exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life," said R. Alexander Acosta, Justice assistant attorney general for civil rights. "The guidelines we are issuing with HUD will be an important aid in helping housing providers and persons with disabilities determine when such accommodations should be provided."
The new guidelines, issued in the form of questions and answers, cover such topics as:
- What is a reasonable accommodation?
- Who must comply with the reasonable accommodation requirement?
- Under what circumstances may a housing provider deny a requested accommodation?
- What procedures may be used for processing requests for reasonable accommodations?
- What types of information and documentation may a housing provider seek from an applicant pertaining to such a request?
- What procedures are available to a person wishing to challenge a denial of a requested accommodation?
Under President Bush's New Freedom Initiative, both HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and DOJ's Civil Rights Division are committed to providing greater access for Americans with disabilities. Last year HUD and its state and local partners received 8,097 housing discrimination complaints, 39 percent of which alleged discrimination because of a person's disability.
HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet and espanol.hud.gov.
People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. Additional information is available at www.usdoj.gov.