HOA Modification and Accommodation: What is Reasonable?
The “reasonable” standard is widely used when determining the legality of an HOA’s action. HOAs are required under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHA) to allow for reasonable accommodation and modification for residents with a documented handicap, disability, or impairment. When determining what is reasonable for these residents with disabilities, fairness, empathy, and reason should prevail. It is important to understand the nuance involved when handling requests for modification or accommodation.
Types of Disabilities
Under the FHAA, a “handicap” is a considered either physical or mental impairment that limits one or more of a person’s major life activities. Impairments may not be visible, and simply having a record of impairments may define a resident as “handicapped”. A clear, comprehensive knowledge of a HOA’s duty for its handicapped residents will create an atmosphere of understanding among board members, and prevent legal action stemming from ignorance of the law.
Accommodation vs. Modification
These terms are often used interchangeably, but the implications of each term require different consideration.
Accommodation requires the HOA make an exception to a rule, practice, or policy because of a resident’s disabled status. A blind resident with a large guide dog would require accommodation to a policy that prohibits large breeds. A request for reasonable accommodation must be rationally connected to the resident’s disability. A condominium HOA with a strict single pet rule is not required to make an accommodation when the necessity of a second pet is not tied to the resident’s disability.
Modification requires an HOA to allow for physical altering of a space to allow for complete enjoyment of his or her home, or HOA facilities. A simple example would be a wheelchair bound man’s request for a chair lift for easy access into the community pool. If deemed reasonable, the board must approve this request.
The financial burden of modification falls on the resident. If the cost of modification is deemed unreasonable, or creates a financial hardship on the resident, the association may subsidize the project. If a requested modification does not meet the association’s aesthetic standards, then any additional cost beyond the resident’s chosen solution must be defrayed by the HOA.
The legal requirement for reasonable accommodation and modification may present as an obstacle for an HOA to navigate. With patience and understanding, reasonable solutions can easily be achieved, and all residents can enjoy their community to the fullest.