Fair Housing Act Requirements for Condo Boards
What is the Fair Housing Act and how does it apply to emotional support animals in condominiums that do not allow pets? The FHA has many provisions, including provisions for the protection of disabled residents of residential facilities. I will often get calls from people who feel that they are being discriminated against by the condominium board, or other governing body at the place where they live, and feel that they may have an Americans with Disabilities Act claim. However, these places are actually governed by the Fair Housing Act, or FHA, and not the Americans With Disabilities Act (or ADA).
The FHA a varies from the ADA in several material respects, including that residents are required to make changes to existing facilities for their own accessibility needs, at their own expense, and not at the expense of the facility. Whereas under the ADA the place of public accommodation that has barriers to access must pay for changes to its own facility, under the FHA, the residential housing facility cannot stop a resident from making reasonable changes required for access, but the resident cannot force the residential facility to pay for those changes.
One issue that seems to come up quite often is the issue of service animals. Under the ADA, emotional support animals may no longer be considered service animals. However, under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are service animals, and a building’s owing rules obviously do not supersede or trump the law requiring that accommodations be made for these animals.
Anyone who has a service animal of any kind in a building that does not allow animals must start by making a request for a reasonable accommodation under the fair housing act with their condominium board, or other governing body where they live. The governing body can ask for reasonable documentation to verify that the animal is a service animal, and if that information has been provided it should approve the request. If the request is denied however, and the denial was unreasonable, the unit owner or the resident may have an FHA claim which can be brought in court to force permission for the service animal to be permitted on the premises, and those claims also come along with a right to recover attorney’s fees and costs.
Condo boards and other organizations that govern places where people live should be aware of both the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the fair housing act, and the building’s obligations under those laws. The ADA may apply in some cases to certain parts of the facility, depending on how large it is and what type of facility it is. When a request for a reasonable accommodation is made under the Fair Housing Act, an association should always be sure to consult with legal counsel who is familiar with the law, and understands which requests must be granted, which requests should be granted (but may be questionable or something worth discussing) and which requests can be denied out right. It is never a good idea to make these decisions regarding the fair housing act without the assistance of counsel familiar with the requirements. If your association or board needs assistance with an FHA issue please feel free to contact us for further assistance.