Dear Fair Housing Lady: Reasonable Accomodations and Lease Terminations

| March 18, 2014 | 2 Comments

Dear Nadeen, the Fair Housing Lady,

I have CFIDS, which includes moderate MCS, and am currently awaiting a SSDI appeal. In the interim, I’m living on my savings and potentially my retirement. I applied for and received a low income housing unit. It was in a newly built apartment complex that repeatedly advertised itself (via newspaper articles on the development) as green. I called the architect, the apartment management company, and the developer and eventually spoke with the Project Manager who oversaw construction, who told me that everything the developer builds uses is green building material and that none of that material contains formaldehyde. He further referred me to their environmental coordinator who volunteered their California Build-it-green checklist, which she later said was the wrong checklist (although it did correspond with the building plans). I was leery of taking a new place, however, but I am much more sensitive to mold that I am to chemicals and thought whatever off-gassing from a gre en-built building would be tolerable, having lived through a green renovation at my ex-boyfriend’s home. I did enter the unit twice and thought it would be tolerable, but after I partially moved in and spent a single night, I had a very bad MCS reaction. I then went to the Building Department of the city where the complex is located to look at the building plans, and noted that only the carpet and paint were specified as low- to no-VOC, and that the drywall, OSB, plywood, etc., were just normal building materials and not green in any manner. I called my doctor that day and he said that I shouldn’t risk staying in the unit any longer, and wrote a letter to the management company explaining that it would be of significant detriment to my health to spend any time in the unit, let alone live in it. The management company has been very coy in regards to whether they will allow me to break my lease, and whether they will return the balance of my months rent and my security depos it. I’d like to know my legal rights, particularly since I have the sense that I’m going to have to fight for any that I do have. Thanks so much…your work is much appreciated by those of us who don’t have much voice in this world.

 

Goodness, you are certainly someone who does your homework.  You put much effort in attempting to learn whether your new apartment would be a manageable one for you based on your disabilities.  Often when I receive these very personal stories from residents (rather than questions directed to Fair Housing Lady from the apartment industry) I do “private” behind-the-scenes email responses that are never posted on my blog.  But in this case, I want the apartment industry to learn from the situation you present.  So we are “going public” here!
I never, ever give legal advice (either to the apartment industry or to residents such as you), but I do have input to give just about all of the time.  Your landlord has a duty to you to reasonably accommodate you because of your disability.  That disability has been validated by your health care provider who has also stated that you need to move because of the disability; note that this is not about your “wanting” to move, this is about needed to do so.  If your landlord is wise, they will let you out of the lease commitment without any early termination penalties.   In other words, they should let you “break your lease” because even after your valiant effort to pre-assess the effect of their community on your health and well being, you have found yourself in a situation that is not tolerable because of disability – not your fault, and not on a whim.   Your security deposit should also be returned in full.  As to the rent, it is probably reasonable for the landlord to charge you some amount of rent from the first day of the lease to perhaps two weeks after the receipt of the letter from your doctor.  Hopefully you will be able to find rental housing that will have an environment in which you can manage, although you have learned that is no easy task. 
For those in the apartment industry who may be reading this blog post, please note that this is the type of real world scenario that can happen at your communities.  You may not think that it is reasonable for this resident to “break” her lease, but the courts may very well differ with you and think that it is perfectly reasonable under the Fair Housing Act.  So pick your battles; consider doing the right/smart thing.

Category: Disability Accomodations

About Nadeen Green: Nadeen Green has been an attorney since 1979. She has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry since the Fair Housing Amendments Act when into effect in 1989. She has been asked to speak numerous times for the National Apartment Association and the Multi-Housing World annual conventions. Her reader-friendly articles on Fair Housing appear regularly in industry publications. Nadeen is proud to be Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions, which offers print and online advertising products for all communities, whether through For Rent Magazine®, ForRent.com, Para Rentar, Senior Outlook, After 55, or specialized publications for condominiums and student housing. .

Comments (2)

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  1. Mary Ellen says:

    Nadeen,

    Thank you so much for your reply. Unfortunately the management company sent a letter via an attorney telling me that I had not adequately broken the lease with the doctor’s letter (and hand over of the keys and a final unit inspection) and that I have instead abandoned the unit, although full abandonment will not occur, according to their interpretation of the abandonment clause in the lease, until I default on rent, and that they reserve the right to collect rent on the lease until such time that they find another tenant for the unit. This appears to be fancy wording to tell me that their keeping everything they have of mine but will probably not go after me further. I guess I’ll be fighting in small claims court…fortunately, things are well documented. I hope to follow up with you as things come to pass.

    Mary Ellen

    • Jessica Hawkins Nadeen Green says:

      Hello again, and thank you for the follow up which is appreciated not only by me, but quite likely others who may be following this Dear Fair Housing Lady exchange. While I am most often blogging and interacting directly with property management folks (landlords) and don’t want to alienate my readership, I find that I do now want to say that you should at least make a call to your local fair housing organization to see if they believe they can assist you with this reasonable accommodation issue. Tell them your story and see what they may have to say, and if you care to further share here in this forum, please do.

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