On March 5, 2008, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), in conjunction with the Department of Justice, issued a Joint Statement, which reinforced the rights of persons with disabilities to make “reasonable modifications” to their HUD affordable housing dwellings or, in some cases, to common elements of a building or complex, so that they can fully enjoy the premises. This Joint Statement is both designed to assist housing providers and common interest community associations to better understand their obligations as well as to encourage persons with disabilities to better understand their rights regarding the “reasonable modifications” provision of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). You can read the Joint Statement here.
Among other prohibitions, the FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability. One type of action specifically prohibited by the FHA is the refusal of housing providers or common interest community associations to permit reasonable modifications – i.e., a structural alteration – of existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, when the modification may be necessary to afford the person with full enjoyment of the premises. The Joint Statement explains who qualifies as a person with disabilities under the FHA and what information may be requested regarding a disability. The Joint Statement also discusses the difference between a “reasonable modification” and a “reasonable accommodation” and gives specific examples of what constitutes a “reasonable modification”, which include widening doorways to allow for wheelchair accessibility, installing grab bars in bathrooms or installing a ramp to provide access to a public or common element, such as a clubhouse. Further, although affordable housing developers or associations are required by the FHA to permit these modifications upon notice and a proper request, in most circumstances, the person requesting a modification is responsible for payment of any costs involved.