Is your Board familiar with the term “fair living space”? If not, then you should familiarize yourself with the concept as it can have a profound effect on your community and your residents.
The concept of fair living space is quite simple – it involves providing an environment where people with disabilities can enjoy the community and its amenities as much as every other resident. It’s all about access and making “reasonable accommodations” for these individuals. The law defines reasonable accommodations as “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service.” 
While it is required by law to make certain accommodations, there are plenty of additional things your association can do to enhance the lifestyle of your residents. This benefits not only the residents with disabilities, but anyone who calls your community home.
Here are a few easy ways to create a fair living space in your community: 

1. Know your facts.

Creating a fair living space can happen in many different ways. You may install ramps for residents in wheelchairs, or perhaps adjust payment schedules to coincide with a resident’s disability check. It’s important to remember that there are factors involved in determining who will cover the expense of providing said accommodations. Also, you may not need to satisfy every request you receive. Obviously, any requests that fall under “reasonable accommodations” will need to be met. The best course of action to take when a resident makes a request is to consult your association attorney and an experienced property management company, to help guide you through the process. 

2. You’re helping more than one person.

A significant segment of the population is living with a disability. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 19% of Americans live 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.” That number jumps to 72% among individuals 80 years or older. So even if only one resident comes forward with a request, you are really serving many. And showing that your association cares enough to carefully consider requests for accommodations goes a long way in creating stronger bonds and stronger faith in your community. 

3. Your solutions can address a host of disabilities.

When you don’t live with a disability yourself, it’s very easy to overlook areas within your community that present challenges to people who do. Residents may have a host of disabilities – from mobility problems, to limited use of their arms and hand, to speech impediments. “Invisible” disabilities like back or joint problems or chronic pain can also be a factor. Other groups to consider include the hearing and visually impaired, individuals who suffer from Tourette syndrome, seizure disorders or migraines. Cognitive limitations, such as autism and Asperger syndrome, learning disabilities and psychiatric conditions, can also come into play. All of these should be considered when you’re creating your fair living space. And with so much to consider, you may be wondering where to start. A good first step is to 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, it may be easier to navigate this complicated landscape with the help of your association attorney and an experienced property management company. 

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. It’s good practice to pay attention to things like advertising, which may exclude certain groups by picturing “perfect” young families. Also, try to avoid steering prospective buyers to certain areas on the property, while avoiding others. For example, a common mistake is failing to show a person in a wheelchair the outdoor amenities. If you’re a Board member, take the time to 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.

Last but not least, don’t forget that your community is more than just a collection of residences. Community is also about the activities and events going on around you. When you plan your calendar of events, make sure you take into consideration residents with disabilities so that you can provide the necessary accommodations. Again, your property management company can advise you on ways to create a robust calendar of inclusive events.

While these five tips are by no means all-encompassing, they do provide a good starting place when it comes to creating a fair living space in your community. For additional information, you can check with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And for further community association management expertise, contact FirstService Residential.
Thursday September 08, 2016