Even if you just occasionally read this blog, you are hopefully aware that it is unlawful for employers, governments and private businesses to discriminate against individuals because of their disabilities. Less well-known, however, is the law that makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone with a disability in the area of housing. This includes refusing to rent or sell a house or unit to an individual.
This law is called the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and it makes it unlawful to refuse to sell or rent a house or apartment based on disability. And as with other disability laws, discrimination under the FHA includes refusing to accommodate an individual’s disability, unless an accommodation would “fundamentally alter” the premises or would create an “undue burden.” (For more information, look under “housing” in this website.
A classic example of housing discrimination occurred in the case of Jankowski Lee & Associates, et al. vs. Cisneros, 91 F. 3d 891, 19 A.D.D. 619, 8 N.D.C.R.P. 341, (1996). In that case, an individual with multiple sclerosis had moved into a large apartment complex. There were only two accessible parking spaces on the property, and parking was provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Consequently, the tenant frequently had to walk a long distance from his parked car to his apartment. Although he made efforts not to show it, this was at times physically difficult. He also had trouble with bladder control, and for that reason he carried a catheter on the walks from his car to his unit.
The tenant finally asked the property manager for an assigned parking space or a sufficient number of accessible parking spaces for the complex in general. The manager denied his request, later testifying that she did so because she had observed him walking to and from his car, and it did not appear to her that he was having any difficulty.
After his request was refused, the tenant filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is the federal investigative agency for the FHA. HUD decided in favor of the tenant, finding that the manager did not have the right to refuse his request based upon uninformed stereotypes and personal opinions. HUD also determined that the management company had not shown that accommodating the tenant would have created an undue burden or fundamentally altered the premises.
As to the company’s argument that it was not aware of the extent of the tenant’s disability, the HUD opinion stated that if a landlord is skeptical about a tenant’s disability, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to request documentation instead of outright refusing the request.
This decision was upheld on appeal, and the company was assessed a civil penalty of $2,500 and was required to pay damages to the tenant and also to give him a parking space as close as possible to his unit.