GAO Recommends HUD Collect Data on Reasonable Accommodation Requests

You may soon have to report data on requests—and be subject to stricter compliance oversight.


You may soon have to report data on requests—and be subject to stricter compliance oversight.


Certain members of Congress asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review reasonable accommodation requests made by HUD-assisted households with disabilities. The concern was that most housing occupied by low-income renter households, including HUD-assisted households, is older and thus predates certain federal accessible design and construction requirements. These older rental buildings may lack accessibility features, such as ramps to entries, grab bars in bathrooms, or widened doorways to accommodate wheelchairs. Thus, ensuring that PHAs and owners make reasonable accommodations as required by law is critical to meeting the accessibility needs of HUD-assisted households with disabilities.

HUD is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for households with disabilities. According to HUD, discrimination on the basis of disability was the most common reason for fair housing complaints to HUD in fiscal years 2017–2021. And the majority of these disability discrimination complaints cited failure of housing providers or others to make reasonable accommodations as required by law.

GAO recently released its report on HUD oversight of accessibility requirements [GAO-23-105083]. This report follows an audit by HUD’s Office of the Inspector General on HUD’s oversight of its PHAs’ reasonable accommodation policies and procedures. This particular audit had found that HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) didn’t have adequate policies and procedures for ensuring PHAs properly addressed, assessed, and fulfilled requests for a reasonable accommodation from people with disabilities.

For its report, GAO examined what data are available on reasonable accommodations provided to HUD-assisted households with disabilities and how HUD oversees compliance with reasonable accommodation requirements. GAO focused on HUD’s three largest rental assistance programs: Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA).

GAO Findings

Owners are required to make reasonable accommodations for households with disabilities in HUD’s rental assistance programs. Reasonable accommodations are changes in policies, practices, services, and structures to help ensure households with disabilities can use and enjoy their homes.

For example, HUD-assisted housing providers and private landlords accepting HCVs may be required to assign a household an accessible parking spot or permit a household to have a service animal in their unit. These providers also may be required to make or permit structural modifications, such as installing lever-style doorknobs or a building entrance ramp. And PHAs that administer the HCV program may extend the amount of time a household has to locate an accessible unit on the private market or increase the rental subsidy to enable a household to rent a larger unit to accommodate a live-in aide.

For its findings, GAO analyzed HUD documentation, including reporting requirements; reviewed relevant laws and regulations; surveyed a generalizable sample of 756 PHAs operating in urban areas or entire states that administer HUD programs; and interviewed officials at HUD headquarters and all 10 regional offices. Here are the report’s findings:

HUD doesn’t collect data on accessibility needs. Across HUD’s three largest rental assistance programs, HUD-assisted housing providers collect information on the disability status of households and report it to HUD. However, HUD program offices don’t systematically collect or report information on the accessibility needs of households assisted by these programs, including whether they requested and received a reasonable accommodation, including a structural modification.

PHAs are required to report whether households in the public housing program requested and received “accessibility features” on Form 50058. However, HUD officials told GAO that PHAs are inconsistent in the extent to which they report the information and interpret the definition of “accessibility feature.” And HUD-assisted housing providers can’t report whether households in the HCV and Section 8 PBRA programs requested and received “accessibility features” on HUD Form 50058 and HUD Form 50059, respectively, because those forms don’t include a field to collect that information.

Because HUD doesn’t systematically collect data on reasonable accommodations, including structural modifications, GAO concludes that HUD isn’t fully aware of household accessibility needs and whether they’ve been met.

HUD lacks strategy for overseeing compliance. If a household believes their request for a reasonable accommodation has been wrongfully denied, the household may file a fair housing complaint with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). FHEO is responsible for enforcing various federal civil rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (as it applies to HUD-assisted programs and activities). In this role, FHEO processes and investigates complaints alleging civil rights violations and conducts compliance reviews of HUD-assisted housing providers.

According to the report, HUD’s current oversight strategy can offer only limited assurance that owners are complying with reasonable accommodation requirements in its three largest rental assistance programs. FHEO primarily relies on investigations of complaints to enforce disability rights laws and conducts few discretionary compliance reviews of housing providers that administer HUD’s three largest rental assistance programs.

FHEO officials told GAO they must prioritize resources on investigations because HUD receives a high volume of complaints, which the agency is legally required to investigate. FHEO reported closing 897 investigations of alleged civil rights violations by PHAs or other recipients of HUD funds in 2021.

Because of the high volume of complaints, HUD is able to conduct only a limited number of discretionary compliance reviews of HUD-assisted housing providers. To target these reviews, officials said they consider factors such as complaints, press articles, and various data sources to assess risk. But HUD doesn’t have basic assisted-household data to help support identification of potential noncompliance. HUD also doesn’t document the criteria it uses to assess risk.


GAO recommends that HUD systematically collect and maintain requests for reasonable accommodations from households with persons with disabilities for the three major housing programs. According to the report, HUD has the ability to collect them. HUD already requires PHAs to periodically report certain household data. By collecting data on reasonable accommodation requests, HUD would be more aware of the accessibility needs of assisted households and whether they were met.

GAO says that collecting more data also would benefit FHEO, which currently lacks a comprehensive, documented strategy for overseeing compliance with reasonable accommodation requirements. FHEO could work with program offices to leverage data collected by PHAs and Section 8 PBRA owners on requests for reasonable accommodations, and use the information to identify potentially substantial noncompliance and high-impact targets. With an oversight strategy and data to help identify potential problem areas obtained before complaints are filed, GAO argues that this might reduce the number of complaint investigations and free up FHEO resources for other fair housing-related activities.

In response to this first recommendation, HUD stated that it would require more funding to set up systems and add staff to perform data collection, maintenance, strategy development, and necessary follow-up. However, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research acknowledged that HUD could make changes to its existing data systems and relevant guidance to address the recommendation.

GAO also recommends that HUD develop and implement a strategy for overseeing assisted housing providers’ compliance with reasonable accountability requests. According to GAO, the report doesn’t recommend FHEO analyze individual requests for reasonable accommodations. It recommends FHEO work with the program offices to leverage data collected from PHAs and Section 8 PBRA owners on requests for reasonable accommodations and use the information to inform an oversight strategy. This aggregate data could be useful in identifying patterns of very low requests or high rates of denials for reasonable accommodations. And this may signal noncompliance risk among housing providers.

2023 Civil Penalty Amounts for Fair Housing Violations

Earlier this year, HUD published inflation-adjusted civil penalty amounts for individuals or entities that were found to have violated a variety of different housing-related laws, including the federal Fair Housing Act.

Under the revised amounts, a violator can be assessed a maximum civil penalty of $23,011 for a first violation of the Fair Housing Act. If they had violated the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years and are again in violation, they can be fined a maximum of $57,527, and respondents who had violated the law two or more times in the previous seven years can be fined a maximum of $115,054 upon another violation.

It's important to note that these civil penalty amounts are in addition to actual damages and attorney’s fees and costs that may be awarded to someone who has experienced housing discrimination.

Prior to this adjustment, the 2022 penalties were $21,663 for a first violation, $54,157 for a second violation, and $108,315 for a third violation.