Roughly 53 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s almost one in five grownups. So multifamily professionals should know all the ins and outs of how to handle a disabled resident in order to protect company reputation, increase community appeal and, probably most importantly, avoid costly penalties or lawsuits. A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report revealed that only in fiscal year 2012-2013, housing discrimination victims obtained $425 million in compensation. So complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Fair Housing Act or other legislation regarding residents’ rights might be vital for any site manager, operator or owner.
Mandatory or not
There are a few main things you definitely need to know in order not to waste time and money, but also understand whether a regulatory or federal subsidy applies to you. First of all, the ADA only refers to public accommodation, which for a multifamily property means… the rental office. A community room might fall under ADA regulation if it is available to more than the residents and their guests. In the U.S., apartment properties do not have ADA units. So when a potential resident wants to talk about ADA units in your community, it actually shows that they don’t clearly understand accessibility laws.
The FHAA requires that buildings built after March 13, 1991, be constructed with specific design features and to be adaptable. Features of adaptable units must allow the owner to promptly adapt a unit if a resident with a physical disability needs accessible features. All ground-floor units and all units in elevator buildings must be adaptable. All common areas must also be completely accessible. The difference between accessible units and adaptable units is that, for instance, adaptable units have reinforced walls at the toilets accommodate the installation of grab bars if needed, while fully accessible units has those grab bars already in place.
The design requirements of Section 504 were implemented in 1982 for newly constructed rural developments and in 1988 for HUD properties in 1988. Unless considerably renovated, assets built under these programs before these dates are not required to provide five percent fully accessible units and two percent hearing and visually impaired units. Section 504 also requires that common areas be fully accessible, but if a property was built prior to the implementation dates, the owner is under no obligation to make units or common areas accessible.
Another important aspect to consider is pets. Although most communities nowadays are pet-friendly, there are properties with a “no-pet” policy. However, companion or emotional support animals fall within the definition of assistance animals under HUD’s guidelines. By law, housing providers cannot charge extra or prohibit the animal from living nears its disabled or impaired owner. You can request verification that the resident indeed has a disability and that the animal is related to it. When confronted by a resident who doesn’t appear to have a disability, but wants to accommodate his dog or cat in your community, legal experts recommend follow the HUD guidelines.
Once you understand all laws and adhere to rules, you will be able to stay within full compliance and probably avoid a costly Fair Housing lawsuit, especially since first-time ADA violations can result in up to $75,000 in civil fines.