There are so many really difficult (and costly!) fair housing issues out there. The list of tough topics is long, but today the Fair Housing Lady was asked to do this article on parking. Parking! While this should be a fairly easy topic, it happens to be one of the issues that continues to show up regularly in fair housing charges and cases. And you wouldn’t believe how much these cases cost. Before we start the educational process, here is the first and perhaps most important thing you need to know: Landlords rarely win fair housing parking cases! That message needs to be received loud and clear, and with that, let’s start the learning process.
1. People with disabilities (PWDs) are one of the seven federally protected classes under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) as amended in 1988. Learning Tip #1: There are three types of disabilities – those physical disabilities you can see (loss of limb, cerebral palsy), those physical disabilities you cannot see (diabetes, lung and heart conditions) and mental and emotional disabilities. If any condition impacts the day-to-day life of a person, that person likely meets the definition of having a disability. You must broaden your view of what a disability is.
2. PWDs are entitled to “reasonable accommodation.” You can have your policies and procedures about who parks where and when, but if a PWD needs a change or waiver of those policies and procedures because of the disability, you must take reasonable steps to make the parking scenario usable for that person. Learning Tip #2: No disability “outranks” another disability. Under the FHA, a soldier who has lost one of his/her legs in war is no more disabled than the young man with depression or the older woman who has panic attacks. A disability is a disability – so don’t judge or “stack rank” or take the “there is nothing wrong with that person” attitude, as that could likely get you in trouble.
3. You do not have the right to know what a person’s disability is. Learning Tip #3: Don’t ask.
4. You do not have the right to know the extent of a person’s disability, i.e. how “bad” it may be.
Learning Tip #4: Don’t ask!
5. You do have the right to verify the existence of a disability (but not what it is or the extent – see above) if the disability is not readily apparent. Learning Tip #5: If you do not already use a “Request for Reasonable Accommodation” form (which covers all such requests, not just those related to parking), then ask your legal counsel to provide you with one. Remember that the form is only used when a reasonable person would not be aware of the existence of a disability or when that reasonable person is aware of a disability but does not see the connection to the request. In addition, if you receive the information you need from another reliable source, rather than in response to your form, you can’t hold up the process by insisting the PWD use your form.
6. If a PWD asks you to work with them regarding their parking, make it happen. I repeat: Landlords rarely win fair housing parking cases! Learning Tip #6: Just as there are many types of disabilities, there are many different needs related to parking. Have a conversation with the PWD and find out what they are trying to accomplish and how they think you might best be able to make that happen.
• Is the need location based? If so, which area works best for the person?
• Does the PWD need a regular sized parking space, or one that is larger for van, wheelchair or walker use?
• Does the PWD want the parking space designated as “handicapped parking” or “reserved?”
• Does the PWD also need a curb cut or ramp if one is not already in place?
Keep in mind that the concept of “reasonable accommodation” expects that the landlord will cover any so-called “de minimus” expenses associated with the accommodation. In parking, for instance, the cost of the sign or some minimal parking lot striping would be small and should be paid by the landlord; installing a new ramp is likely a more significant cost and is typically the resident’s financial responsibility.
7. Reasonable accommodation is not limited just to providing the parking space. There is a duty to “defend” that parking space on behalf of the PWD as well. A landlord ended up paying when he provided a parking space for the PWD but then did nothing when others parked there. Learning Tip #7: Have a dialogue with the PWD and let that person know that if there are any problems connected with the use of the parking space that you want those problems brought to your attention. In fact, a nice letter to this effect is wise. When problems are brought to your attention, address them because (all together now): Landlords rarely win fair housing parking cases! Any accommodation you make with regard to parking is subject to the generally applicable parking rules of the property. So, if you tow cars that are improperly parked in “no parking” zones, or if you fine residents for improperly parking, those procedures also apply to a parking space you’ve provided as an accommodation to a disability.
8. There is often a concern raised by those who manage senior housing that if they grant a request for reasonable accommodation that other residents will ask for the same. Requests, no matter how few or how many, are taken in order and on their merits. No PWD can be denied their right to reasonable accommodation (which is a civil right when you get right down to it) because of such concerns.
9. Requests for reasonable accommodation must, in fact, be reasonable. Asking to park in the fire lane because it is near the door to the building is not reasonable. Learning Tip #8: Keep in mind that you are not necessarily the standard of what is reasonable. Standing in the shoes of a landlord may not give you the right perspective. The ultimate arbitrator of “reasonable” is the judge and/or jury.
10. Finally, in the unlikely event you would ever have whiny residents, be prepared for comments such as “There is nothing wrong with her, why does she get to park there?” Don’t dialogue with the whiner and don’t talk about disability or reasonable accommodation (none of their business). Learning Tip #9: Respond with a smile and say “Because, as always, we are complying with the law.” If you are, in fact, always complying with the laws related to reasonable parking accommodation requests from PWDS under the Fair Housing Act, then good for you. You are far less likely to be one of those landlords who loses money because of a fair housing complaint, charge or lawsuit.
REQUIRED LANGUAGE FOR ALL REPRINTS OF THIS ARTICLE: This Fair Housing Focus article has been co-authored by Theresa L. Kitay, Esquire, who specializes in defense of Fair Housing Act cases and Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions™, who regularly teaches fair housing classes to the apartment industry. The information contained in this article is not to be considered legal advice, and the authors and their organizations strongly recommend that you consult with your own counsel as to any fair housing questions or problems you may have. Terry can be reached at email@example.com and Nadeen can be reached at Nadeen.Green@ForRent.com.Google+
Category: Disability Accomodations