The Trainer — April 2017
Avoiding Fair Housing Problems When Applicants and Residents Use Wheelchairs
In this month’s feature, we gave you seven rules to follow to avoid fair housing problems when dealing with wheelchair-bound applicants and residents. If you refuse to rent a unit to an applicant because he uses a wheelchair, you’ll violate fair housing law. The same applies if you rent to residents who use wheelchairs but you treat them in a discriminatory manner. The penalties for violating fair housing law are stiff, including HUD fines and lawsuits from individuals.
When a prospect in a wheelchair asks about available two-bedroom units, you may recommend accessible or ground-floor units because you can see that he is obviously disabled. True or false?
Your site was built in the 1980s. The leasing office is on the first floor, but there’s a step at the building entrance. Although it’s not covered under the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction standards, your community could still face a disability discrimination complaint. True or false?
Your site was built for first occupancy in 2003. The building is equipped with an elevator and has six stories, each with 10 units. A resident in a third-floor unit recently started using a wheelchair due to a mobility impairment, but the door and hallways in her unit are too narrow for her to get around in her wheelchair. She asks you to widen the hallway and doors. What should you do?
a. Deny her request; since the unit isn’t on the ground floor, it doesn’t need to meet the FHA’s accessibility requirements.
b. Allow her to make the changes, as long as she agrees to pay for it.
c. Make the requested changes at your own expense.
After a resident with disabilities moves out of your site, you notice extensive carpet damage and scuff marks and abrasions on the walls in the unit, due to the resident’s wheelchair use. You can charge the resident for the cost of repairing the carpet and wall damage or deduct the cost from his security deposit. True or false?
ANSWERS & EXPLANATIONS
Correct answer: b
False. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it’s unlawful to make housing unavailable or restrict a prospect’s housing choices because of a disability. Even if you don’t mean to discriminate, you could be accused of unlawful steering by offering your personal opinion, based on the prospect’s disability, about where the prospect should live.
Correct answer: a
True. Although the FHA’s design and construction provisions apply only to sites built for first occupancy since March 1991, your community could still face a disability discrimination complaint. Because it’s open to the public, the leasing office is considered a “place of public accommodation,” so it may be subject to the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Correct answer: c
The site was built for first occupancy after March 1991, so it should have been designed to comply with the FHA’s accessibility standards. Among other things, the rules require covered units to have doors wide enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs and to have an accessible route into and through each unit. Since the doorways are too narrow to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, they are violation of the law, and you should modify them immediately, at your own expense.
Correct answer: b
False. Don’t ask residents to pay for damage to their units or common areas that normal wheelchair use caused. Residents who use wheelchairs need them to compensate for their disability. So if you make residents pay for damage they cause while using their wheelchairs properly, you could be illegally discriminating against these residents on the basis of their disability.
Of course, you can ask residents to pay for damage caused by wheelchairs if the damage is excessive. For instance, if a resident gets angry and damages a wall in his unit or in a common area, you can withhold the resident’s security deposit or sue the resident for the damage—whether he hit the wall with a hammer or rammed his wheelchair into it. Make sure, however, to apply your policies consistently among all your residents. This means that you must seek no more payment for damage that residents who use wheelchairs cause than you would seek from other residents. And you must treat all residents the same when deciding whether to seek payment for damage at all.