Are you familiar with the term “fair living space”? If you’re not, you should be – it can have a profound effect on your community, your association and your residents.

A fair living space involves providing an environment in which people with disabilities enjoy the necessary accommodations in their homes and community amenities. It’s really all about access, and something the law calls “reasonable accommodation,” which means “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service.” Reasonable accommodations are a subject that deserve some attention of their own, so if you’d like to find out more about it, you can read up on the subject here.
While the law may require you to make some accommodations, there are other things your association may be able to do which can further enhance the lifestyle of those who reside in your homeowners association. While it will directly and positively impacts the quality of life for those residents with challenges and disabilities, it will also positively impact the overall image of your community.

Here’s a look at ways to provide a fair living space.

Know your facts.

Creating a fair living space can encompass a wide range of considerations, such as  ramps for residents in wheelchairs or adjusting payment schedules to coincide with a resident’s disability check. Remember, there are different factors involved in determining who pays for any costs incurred in providing specific accommodations. Further, you don’t have to satisfy every request as some may violate aesthetic standards, or they may not create a welcoming environment for the majority of residents. However, the HOA will need to accommodate requests that fall under “reasonable accommodations”. When a resident with a disability submits a specific request, you should consult with your association attorney and a professional, experienced homeowners association (HOA) management company to help guide you through this process.

You’re helping more than one person.

About 18% of the U.S. population lives with some sort of disability, which the Americans with Disabilities Act defines as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities or there is a record of such an impairment or an individual is regarded as having such an impairment.” This number jumps to 72% among individuals 80 years or older. So even if only  one resident comes forward with a request, remember that a significant segment of the population lives with disabilities, too, therefore showing that your HOA cares enough to carefully consider requests for accommodations will help create stronger bonds and a stronger faith within your community.

Your solutions can address a host of disabilities.

If you don’t live with a disability, then it’s easy to overlook those areas of your community that may present challenges to those who do. Residents may have mobility problems, limited use of their arms and hands, or even speech difficulties, all of which can be considered when you’re creating your fair living space. “Invisible” disabilities like back or joint problems or chronic pain can also be a factor. You should also consider the visually and hearing impaired, along with those who suffer from migraines, seizure disorders and Tourette syndrome. Cognitive limitations (such as autism and Asperger syndrome), psychiatric conditions, and learning disabilities can also come into play. Consider the lifestyle of your community, and put yourself in these individuals’ shoes. Are there changes you can enact to make their lives more rewarding? Again, your HOA management company as well as your attorney can partner with you to make it easier to navigate this complicated landscape.

Follow rules to stay inclusive.

Discriminating against people with disabilities can happen in many ways – sometimes unintentionally. Be wary of advertising that excludes groups (like “perfect for young families”). Avoid “steering,” or leading a prospective resident to a particular area of the property (failing to show a person in a wheelchair the outdoor amenities is a common mistake). If you’re a board member, make sure to train your team to spot the legal issues when it comes to ensuring fair living space so that you can involve the association’s attorney.

It applies to activities, too.

Don’t forget that your community is more than a collection of residences. Community is also about the activities and events you plan. When you put together your calendar of offerings, make sure you take into consideration those who have disabilities so you can accommodate them. Again, HOA management can advise you on ways to create a robust calendar of inclusive events.

These five tips are by no means all-inclusive – you should check with your attorney to make sure you’re compliant. For more information, you can check with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And for further property management expertise, contact FirstService Residential.
Monday May 09, 2016