Not many associations believe it is permissible for an HOA to deny a request for reasonable accommodation. But, under the right circumstances, an HOA can issue a denial.
When Can an HOA Deny Request for Reasonable Accommodation?
Homeowners association horror stories are nothing new. Though, few are as exasperating and confusing as those that involve reasonable accommodation requests. But, what is a request for reasonable accommodation anyway?
A request for reasonable accommodation is a request to permit a disabled person to do something or modify their dwelling in a way that an association’s governing documents would typically disallow so that they can have full use and enjoyment of their home. This can relate to an HOA’s rules or policies as well as practices and services.
Some common examples of reasonable accommodation in housing include:
- Requesting for an exception to pet rules
- Asking for an exception to parking restrictions
- Installing a ramp in a dwelling or common area
It is often tricky to balance dealing with reasonable accommodation requests, though. The terrain is also rife with risk, as it involves both federal and state housing laws. One wrong move and a homeowners association could land itself in hot water. For instance, even a delayed response could make an association open to potential liability.
Some HOA boards might think it wise to simply grant every reasonable accommodation request that comes their way. But, doing so only exposes the association to other threats. Reasonable accommodation requests require effort in determining whether a request is warranted. Granting every request — or even a single request — without obtaining enough information on its validity can expose the board to claims of violating their fiduciary duty. It can also put an unnecessary financial burden on the association.
On the other hand, asking a disabled person to supplement their request with additional documents is also risky. Medical records, for instance, are normally classified as private, confidential, or sensitive information.
Understanding the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability as well as race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and familial status. Several states have their own fair housing laws, too. The Americans With Disabilities Act focuses on providing protection to persons with disabilities in the realms of public life, including employment, transportation, and the common areas of an HOA community.
What is a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act? According to the FHA, a reasonable accommodation is an exception, change, or modification that would allow a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, whether it is a private or public space. The act recognizes homeowners and condo associations as housing providers. Therefore, such associations must also abide by the provisions of federal and state fair housing laws.
Elements of Reasonable Accommodation Requests
Under the Fair Housing Act, there are three main elements that would make a request valid. The request must be:
- Reasonable; and,
- Necessary to afford an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the space or dwelling.
First of all, the request for accommodation must be reasonable. This means it should not put an undue burden on the association to accommodate the request for the disabled person. For instance, a modification request that would amount to thousands of dollars in expenses on the HOA’s part is unreasonable.
Second, the request must demonstrate that it is necessary to allow the disabled person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy space or dwelling. It would not make sense for a disabled person to ask their HOA to make an exception for them if the request has no correlation to their ability to use or enjoy their home.
To summarize, a request for accommodation must be both reasonable and necessary to afford an equal opportunity to use or enjoy the dwelling. If a request does not meet these elements, then rejection is well within an association’s ability. The person making the request will likely pursue legal action against the association. As such, associations must be prepared to defend their stance.
Real-Life Examples of HOA Reasonable Accommodation Denials
It is hard to truly grasp the idea behind reasonable accommodation requests, especially when there is potential liability involved. Homeowners associations are likely too afraid or simply lack the expertise to handle such situations. Can an HOA deny request for reasonable accommodation? Here are two real examples to help associations navigate this confusing arena.
Phillips v. Acacia on Green Condo
In the case of Phillips v. Acacia on Green Condo, two owners requested that their Ohio condominium grant their request to install grills on their respective patios. The association had a policy prohibiting unit owners from having their own grills, even on their balconies and patios, for a number of reasons, including the fire code. Instead, unit owners could use the grill located in a common area.
Weiss, a unit owner, had been asking and demanding a grill for five years. The association repeatedly denied him. He was then diagnosed with lymphoma as well as an immune deficiency. While he did not use a cane or other mobility aid, he claimed that there would be times when he was unable to walk. His doctor issued a letter to the condo association stating it was necessary for Weiss to have a grill on his patio due to these episodes.
Phillips, on the other hand, also claimed to have a handicap and requested the same. When the association denied her request as well, Phillips and Weiss sued their condo. According to them, not having grills on their patios interfered with their ability to enjoy their dwellings.
The court ended up ruling in favor of the condo association. Weiss and Phillips had to prove that a grill was necessary to them, but the court did not find it as such. Phillips failed to show that she could not walk to the common grilling area. As for Weiss, the court deemed that he could walk to the common grilling area on days when he did not suffer from episodes. During times when he is unable to walk, a grill on his patio would not be necessary because it would not make his condition better.
Eastwood v. Willow Bend Lake Homeowners Association
In 2019, a Texas resident asked his association for permission to fence off the portion of his backyard that was accessible to the public. The association denied his request. The resident received a cancer diagnosis thereafter, resulting in his immune system becoming compromised. His doctor recommended direct sunlight as part of his therapeutic recovery. However, direct sunlight was only available in the portion of his backyard that was not fenced off.
Come 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the resident became concerned that his compromised immune system would make him more vulnerable to the infectious disease. He asked for reasonable accommodation from his HOA to have the ability to install a fence in his backyard to keep other people out. Again, the HOA denied his request. The resident sued.
In the end, the court sided with the association, saying that the resident failed to demonstrate that he had a disability. According to fair housing law, a disability is defined as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The resident’s situation did not fit the bill.
The Bottom Line
Can an HOA deny request for reasonable accommodation? In a word, yes. Under certain circumstances, a homeowners or condo association can reject a reasonable accommodation request. The association must prove that the request is, in fact, not reasonable nor necessary.
Of course, not many associations can navigate the complex world of law without help. Cedar Management Group offers legal assistance to homeowners and condo associations, among other services. Call us today at (877) 252-3327 or contact us online to request a proposal.
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