WASHINGTON – New guidance released this week by the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Justice (DOJ) reinforced the right of persons with disabilities to make “reasonable modifications” to their dwellings if a structural change to their dwelling or to a common area of the building or complex in which they live is needed so that they can fully enjoy the premises.
The guidance is designed to help housing providers and homeowners’ associations better understand their obligations and help persons with disabilities better understand their rights regarding the “reasonable modifications” provision of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).
“The right to reasonable modifications is essential to ensuring that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy the homes in which they live,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This guidance will help housing providers understand their obligations under this important component of the Fair Housing Act.”
“Persons with disabilities have a right to have the place they call home altered in a way that will enable them to fully enjoy it,” said Kim Kendrick, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “This guidance is a major step toward enforcing that right today, and for generations to come.”
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. HUD and DOJ share responsibility for enforcing the FHA. HUD is the agency with the primary responsibility to investigate individual complaints of discrimination. The Secretary of HUD, on his own initiative, may file complaints alleging discrimination. In addition, the Attorney General may commence a civil action in federal court when he has reasonable cause to believe that person(s) are engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination or that a group of persons has been denied rights protected by the FHA.
One type of discrimination prohibited by the FHA is the refusal by housing providers or homeowner associations to permit a reasonable modification – i.e., a structural alteration – of existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, when the modification may be necessary to afford the person full enjoyment of the premises. Although the housing provider or homeowner association must permit the modification, the tenant (or prospective tenant) is responsible for paying the cost of the modification. Examples of reasonable modifications include widening doorways to make rooms more accessible to persons who use wheelchairs or installing a ramp to provide access to a public or common use area, such as a clubhouse.
The new guidelines, issued in the form of questions and answers, cover such topics as:
What is a reasonable modification?
Who must comply with the reasonable modification requirement?
Who is responsible for expenses associated with the upkeep or maintenance of a reasonable modification?
When and how should an individual request permission to make a modification?
What types of documents and assurances may a housing provider require regarding the modification before granting the modification?
What procedures are available to a person wishing to challenge a denial of a requested modification?
The guidelines are available online at both http://www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing and http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities.
Since January 2001, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partners have investigated and either conciliated or charged nearly 10,000 cases that alleged discrimination based on disability. Since Jan.1, 2001, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 244 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 115 of which have alleged discrimination based on disability. More information about HUD and the civil rights laws it enforces is available at http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/aboutfheo/aboutfheo.cfm. More information about the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.
Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. In addition, individuals may contact DOJ at 1-800-896-7743, or they may email DOJ at firstname.lastname@example.org.