By Laura Manning-Hudson / Published November 2023
The federal Fair Housing Act bars community associations from refusing reasonable accommodations to their rules or policies requested by disabled owners to enable them to enjoy the full use of their residences. Requests for accommodations that represent fundamental changes to associations’ existing policies, or those that infringe upon the rights and privileges of other owners, in some cases may not qualify as reasonable under the requirements of the Act and may be negated.
Community associations should always tread very carefully and only with the guidance of highly experienced legal counsel in their handling of requests for disability accommodations. Inevitably, some requests will challenge a community’s restrictive covenants, such as those for service animals in enclaves that ban pets. The key for associations is to strike a balance between upholding such rules and adhering to their legal obligations to make reasonable accommodations.
The associations that do it best are those that make highly effective use of communications with the requesting residents during the review process. Bear in mind that for owners/residents whose disability is plainly obvious, only a cursory review and approval process should be in order. It is only in cases in which a disability is not readily apparent that associations may and should request supporting information.
In such cases, due to the sensitive nature of discussions involving disabilities, associations must ensure that the owner/resident’s privacy is protected and keep all communications confidential. Those who are not directly involved in the accommodations review and approval process should not be privy to any information on these requests.
The entire process should include a timeline for any review and follow-up documentation, and depending on the information initially presented, a final decision should typically take no longer than 30 days from the date of the initial request. During the review process, association directors and/or their qualified representatives may wish to personally meet with the requesting individual to discuss and explore different options and parameters that may meet their needs while also adhering to the community’s rules and standards.
Once an accommodation is officially approved and in effect, associations and their representatives should follow up with the disabled individual to ensure it met their needs, and their input should be documented and maintained together with all other pertinent records regarding the review and approval.
By working with highly qualified and experienced attorneys and management consultants, community associations can develop and implement their own policies employing these and other best practices for all the disability accommodation requests they may receive.
Shareholder, Siegfried Rivera
Laura Manning-Hudson is a shareholder with the law firm of Siegfried Rivera who is board certified as an expert in community association law by the Florida Bar and has focused on association matters since 1998. She is the firm’s managing shareholder of its West Palm Beach office and writes at www.siegfriedrivera.com/blog. The firm also maintains offices in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and its attorneys focus on real estate, community association, construction, and insurance law. For more information, visit www.SiegfriedRivera.com or call 1-800-737-1390.