By Jonathan H. Katz, Esq.

Hill Wallack LLP’s Condo FAQs is a continuing series in which we answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) pertaining to condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners’ associations. These FAQs relate to various issues that include interpretation of governing documents, board meetings, suspension of privileges, collections, or bankruptcy and foreclosure.

Question: What constitutes a “reasonable modification” under the Fair Housing Act and when must my association agree to a request from a resident for a modification?

Answer: The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) makes it unlawful to discriminate in housing based on numerous factors, including race, religion, familial status and disability. One action specifically prohibited by the FHA is the refusal of housing providers, which includes community associations, to permit a reasonable modification – e.g., a structural alteration – of an existing property, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, when the modification may be necessary to afford the person with full enjoyment of the premises.

In order to clarify the questions surrounding what constitutes a “reasonable modification” under the FHA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, issued a Joint Statement that reinforced the rights of persons with disabilities to make “reasonable modifications” to their dwellings or, in some cases, to common areas of a building or complex, so that they can fully enjoy the premises. The stated purposed of the Joint Statement is both to assist housing providers and community associations to better understand their obligations as well as to encourage persons with disabilities to know their rights regarding the “reasonable modifications” provision of the FHA.

The Joint Statement explains who qualifies as a person with a disability under the FHA and what information may be requested by a housing provider or community association regarding the disability. The Joint Statement also discusses specific examples of what constitutes a “reasonable modification,” such as widening doorways to allow for wheelchair access, installing grab bars in bathrooms, or installing a ramp to provide access to a public or common area, such as a clubhouse. Further, although the FHA requires housing providers and community associations to permit these modifications upon proper notice and a request, in many circumstances the person requesting a modification is responsible for payment of any costs involved.

You can read the Joint Statement here.

If you have a question about reasonable modifications under the FHA or another community association issue that you would like us to address, please e-mail it to us, along with your name and your association, to jkatz@hillwallack.com.