You’ve heard the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “reasonable modification” before. But do you know the specific definitions of the terms and how they apply to your association?
Clarity on these terms could make the difference between a costly lawsuit and meeting a legitimate need. So to eliminate confusion, let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions of reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification. In the process, we’ll gain a greater understanding of how these concepts can help create a fair living space for residents with disabilities.
1. Myth one: the terms mean the same thing.
Contrary to what some may believe, reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification are not the same thing. Strictly speaking, reasonable accommodation is defined as “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service.” So, for example, if a resident pays his association dues out of his monthly disability check, making a reasonable accommodation could entail shifting his payment due date to correspond with the arrival of his benefit. Reasonable modification, on the other hand, is a physical alteration made to a portion of a community, such as a ramp built to a clubhouse so it can be wheelchair accessible.
2. Myth two: the association must pay for modifications.
Under the law, if modifications are required for a disabled person to fully enjoy a community, then those modifications are made at the resident’s own expense. Now, the “reasonable” part of the term is important here...in some instances, the modification may be so costly that it creates a hardship on the disabled resident. In these instances, the association may opt to help defray some of the cost of the modification. Let’s consider our wheelchair ramp example from before. A reasonable modification may be a plywood ramp built to the clubhouse. This may not adhere to the aesthetic standards of the community, however, and the association may opt for a concrete and wrought iron ramp to be built. In this case, the resident cannot be required to pay the additional cost to satisfy aesthetic requirements. As you can see, these matters can get complex relatively quickly, so it’s important to remember that a good property management company together with your association’s attorney can help you navigate these complicated waters.
3. Myth three: the association must always satisfy a request for accommodation.
When a resident asks for reasonable accommodation, the request must be based on his disability, not his status as a disabled person. Let’s consider the resident whose association dues are made payable at a different time to correspond with the arrival of her disability check. While that is a reasonable accommodation, it would not be reasonable for the resident to request the shift in due date because of, say, a late alimony payment from her ex-spouse.
4. Myth four: a handicap is always something you can see.
It’s important to keep in mind the full definition of a “handicap” as it applies to the Fair Housing Amendments Act (or FHAA). Under the law, a “handicap” is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more of a person’s major life activities. This covers a broad range of impairments which may be either visible to the eye or not. In fact, the law is even broader, applying handicap status to those who have a record of impairments, or who are regarded as having an impairment. As such, it’s important to remember that a broader range of the population may qualify for handicap status than you might initially expect, so it’s essential to have a clear understanding of reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification.
With any potentially litigious matter, it’s important to consult with your legal counsel when issues of reasonable accommodation or modification arise. For more insight, contact FirstService Residential.