When a tenant, condominium owner, or cooperative shareholder makes a request for an accommodation or modification due to a disability, what responsibilities and rights do a landlord, condominium or cooperative board have? Their response can make all the difference between properly addressing the request and landing in a legal minefield that can cost significant energy and resources, including legal fees and potential fines and penalties.
Our Award-Winning Fair Housing Attorney has not only counseled and advised a wide array of clients on fair housing requirements, but has also lectured on the topic and co-authored fair housing regulations.
Fair Housing Laws in General
Federal, state, and local laws, including Westchester County and New York City, all have similar (although not identical) prohibitions against failing to provide a person an accommodation or permitting them to make a modification if their request is reasonable. But, before an accommodation or modification must be made, the requesting party must meet certain thresholds.
1. The tenant, condominium owner, or cooperative shareholder (or a person residing in the dwelling) must actually have a disability. While the various laws all have substantially similar definitions for what constitutes a disability, there are distinctions. It is imperative, however, that landlords and boards be aware of several things:
• They are not entitled to know the nature or type of disability. While the housing provider or board will need to know how the disability impacts the person, they do not have to know the diagnosis. (For example, if a tenant who walks with a cane asks for an assigned parking space closer to the building, the housing provider is not entitled to know that the individual has gout, a steel plate in their hip, etc. It is sufficient to understand that the tenant has difficulty walking.)
• In general, if the disability is clear to the casual observer (such as using a wheelchair or seeing-eye dog), the housing provider or board should not ask for proof or evidence of the disability. If, on the other hand, the disability is not evident, the housing provider or board may make a request for supporting documentation to prove that the resident does, in fact, have a disability. Housing providers and boards are urged, however, to consult with an attorney before making such a request. A better practice still would be to have a formal process created by knowledgeable attorneys.
2. The tenant, condominium owner, or cooperative shareholder must make a request for an accommodation or modification. A resident or an applicant for housing makes a request whenever she or he makes clear to the housing provider that they need the accommodation or modification. Such request need not be written and may be made verbally. Having a clear process in place, such as the type that our attorneys can help construct, can be critical in responding properly and avoiding unnecessary costs and frustration.
3. There must be a nexus between the accommodation or modification sought and the disability. For example, if a cooperative shareholder’s resident child uses a wheelchair, and requests that a ramp be installed leading up to entrance of the building, there is a clear nexus between the resident’s disability and the requested modification. Residents are not necessarily entitled to any accommodation or modification that they want simply because they have a disability; the accommodation or modification should be necessary in order for the resident to use and enjoy the premises.
These are general points as the law varies depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances. If you have specific questions about seeking an accommodation on behalf of an individual or are a representative of a building and have questions about your obligations, contact our New York Fair Housing Attorney for a confidential consultation to learn your options, rights and potential next steps. This topic will be continued in the next blog, which will be posted tomorrow. Come back to read part two tomorrow.
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