Disabled Resident's Accommodation Request Ruled Unreasonable
Facts: A disabled Section 8 resident asked the court to prevent the owners from collecting market rent on her three-bedroom unit. Although her two children had moved out of the unit by 2003, the resident claimed that she still needed three bedrooms to accommodate her belongings and hobbies, such as a stationary bicycle and arts and crafts, which are necessary to improve her health.
The resident alleged that the owners discriminated against her by requiring her to move to a smaller unit or pay fair market value for the three-bedroom unit. The local housing finance administration conducted a management review of the site and observed that the resident’s unit was “over-housed”—that is, its size wasn’t appropriate for the household composition. In October 2008, the owners sent the resident a letter informing her that an over-housed household must transfer to an appropriate-sized unit with continued Section 8 assistance or remain in the same unit and pay fair market rent. Subsequently, the owners wrote her two additional letters informing her of the availability of a two-bedroom unit and gave her a deadline by which she would have to transfer or else pay market rent.
The resident claimed that the owners failed to perform a thorough investigation to adequately understand the underlying rationale for her reasonable accommodation request. She admitted that the local housing finance agency assessed her ailments and interviewed her physicians before deeming her a tenant of an over-housed unit subject to the loss of Section 8 benefits. The owners relied on this report in discontinuing her benefits and denying her request to remain in her unit at a reduced price.
Ruling: A district court in Puerto Rico dismissed the resident’s claim.
Reasoning: The court ruled that an accommodation request is unreasonable if it puts the resident at a financial advantage rather than providing an equal opportunity. Permitting a disabled Section 8 recipient who earns in excess of Section 8’s eligible income bracket for the unit to remain in that unit at the subsidized rate simply because of her disability is unreasonable. According to the court, this cannot be the purpose of the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA’s) reasonable accommodation requirement. Allowing her to stay would give her an advantage because of her disability, not a placement on equal footing with nondisabled persons.
The resident’s accommodation request would force the owners to subsidize her rental fee because she no longer qualifies for Section 8 benefits in her current unit. But no resident, disabled or otherwise, would be allowed to remain in a unit without paying fair market value or a contractually agreed-upon fee. Section 8 subsidies don’t hinge on remedial schemes under the FHA. Conversely, the revocation of Section 8 benefits doesn’t trigger a duty for an owner to bear the financial burden of the difference between a resident’s subsidized rent and the fair market value, regardless of the resident’s disability status.
- Batista v. Cooperative de Vivienda Jardines, May 2013