PHA Not Liable for Discrimination
Facts: A resident with glaucoma asked the PHA for increased lighting in her unit no later than Nov. 8, 2012. On July 10, 2013, the PHA asked the resident to “clearly explain how [her] request for extra lighting connects with [her] disability” and “what steps [she] has taken to try to accommodate [her] own needs for extra lighting in [her] unit, such as floor lamps, and why this lighting did not meet [her] needs.” The resident responded by letter five days later, explaining that seeing in her unit was becoming increasingly difficult due to her glaucoma and purchasing lighting was financially unmanageable given her fixed income. Her letter included a note from her doctor.
On May 22, 2014, the PHA sent her a letter notifying her that a request for the installation of additional lighting in her unit had been approved. As of March 26, 2015, the lighting in her unit was described by a case manager as “dim.”
The resident sued the PHA for discrimination based on its delay in providing increased lighting. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is unlawful to “discriminate . . . in the provision of services or facilities in connection with a dwelling, because of a handicap.” The resident sued under the “reasonable accommodation” standard. But the PHA argued that her claim was actually a “request for modification.”
Ruling: A Washington district court ruled in favor of the PHA.
Reasoning: The provision in the FHA defining a “reasonable accommodation” makes no mention of physical adjustments to existing structures, but rather pertains to “rules, policies, practices, or services.” To the contrary, subsection (A) of the law, defining a request for modification, explicitly mentions the “existing premises” of a dwelling. Furthermore, HUD regulations define a “modification” as “any change to the public or common use areas of a building or any change to a dwelling unit.”
Reading the plain language of the FHA in conjunction with the definitions put forth by HUD, the court concluded that the physical alteration the resident requested is properly analyzed as a “request for modification” rather than a request for “reasonable accommodation.”
The resident presented no evidence that she made a request to modify the lighting in her unit at her own expense. To the contrary, the record suggests that lighting costs were too expensive for her due to her fixed income. Without evidence, the court found that the resident failed to demonstrate a violation of the FHA.
- Brooks v. Seattle Housing Authority, June 2015