Have you and your association given some thought to fair living space within your community? If not, then you should familiarize yourself with the concept because it can have a profound effect on your community.

The concept of fair living space is simple – it’s really all about access and making sure individuals with disabilities can enjoy the community and its amenities as much as every other resident. It is also about making “reasonable accommodations” as the law states, which means " a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service."

In addition to the accommodations you are required to make by law, there are a number of things your association may be able to do to enhance the lifestyle of your residents. Not only will it benefit your residents with disabilities — it will benefit anyone who calls your community home.

Here are a few easy ways your community can provide a fair living space.

1. Know your facts.

There are a lot of ways to create a fair living space – from installing ramps for residents in wheelchairs to adjusting payment schedules to coincide with a residents’ disability check. Keep in mind that there are factors involved when determining who will cover the costs of providing certain accommodations. Also, it may not be necessary to meet every request. If a resident makes a request, you should consult your association attorney and an experienced property management association, both of which should be able to guide you through the process. 

2. You’re helping more than one person.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five Americans (about 19%) 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.” Among individuals 80 or older, that number jumps to almost 72 percent. So even if just one resident comes forward with a request, it’s important to remember that a significant segment of the population is living with a disability. Showing that your community association cares enough to carefully consider requests for accommodations will only serve to strengthen your community.

3. Your solutions can address a host of disabilities.

If you don’t live with a disability yourself, then chances are you have overlooked the areas within your community that may present a challenge to those who do. Consider that residents can have mobility problems, limited use of their hands or arms, speech impediments. Disabilities such as back or joint problems or chronic pain, while not always easily seen, should be considered when creating fair living space. Other groups to consider include the visually and hearing impaired, individuals 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. With so much to consider, you may be wondering where to start. Just put yourself in these individuals’ shoes, and always consider the lifestyle of your community. Are there changes you can make that would make their lives better and more rewarding? As we mentioned earlier, partnering with your property management company, as well as your attorney, can make it easier to navigate this complicated landscape.

4. Follow rules to stay inclusive.

Even if you do not mean to do it, discriminating against people with disabilities can happen in many ways. Pay attention to advertising that excludes certain groups. Avoid steering prospective residents to a particular area of the property. For example, failing to show a person in a wheelchair the outdoor amenities is a common mistake that can be easily avoided. And always train your team to spot the legal issues that may arise with ensuring fair living space so that you can involve the association attorney when necessary. 

5. It applies to activities too.

Lastly, don’t forget that your community is more than just a collection of homes. Community is also about the activities and events going on around you. When you put together your calendar of event offerings, make sure you are making the necessary accommodations for those residents with disabilities. Again, your property management company can advise you on ways to create a robust calendar of inclusive events.

We hope these five tips will start you on the right path when it comes to creating a fair living space in your community. They are by no means all-inclusive, however, and you should check with your attorney to make sure you’re compliant. For additional information, you can also check with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And for further community association management expertise, contact FirstService Residential.
Friday July 22, 2016