Fair Housing

Does My HOA Have To Comply with ADA Requirements? What to Know About Disability Accommodations

| 4 min. read

According to the Foundation for Community Association Research, approximately 25-27 percent of the U.S. population lives in private communities governed by condominiums, cooperatives, and housing associations. Plus, Federal laws require HOAs to consider special accommodations for people with disabilities, even if those accommodations would violate the governing documents. 

This article will explore the Fair Housing Act and ADA requirements that HOA boards must know to ensure compliance and handle disability accommodation requests effectively.

What HOA Owners and Managers Need to Know About ADA 

HOAs face critical responsibilities when it comes to ADA compliance. Understanding the concept of "reasonable accommodation" is essential, as it defines the adjustments HOAs must make to ensure accessibility without fundamentally altering their regulations. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), HOAs must adjust their policies moderately, ensuring accessibility without fundamentally altering their regulations. These accommodations extend to the physical elements of the community, such as ramps, railings, and accessible entrances, as well as modifications within individual units.

Moreover, the ADA mandates that associations provide reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities upon request. It's essential to understand which elements associations must provide and which types of modifications they must accommodate.

What an HOA Should Know about the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) complements the ADA and provides even greater protections against housing discrimination for disabled individuals. Unlike the ADA, which focuses on public accommodations, the FHA applies directly to housing facilities, including HOAs, and protects owners and residents, even if they are not part of the general public.

The FHA prohibits HOAs from refusing reasonable accommodations in their rules or policies for disabled owners to enjoy and use their units fully. For instance, if a resident requires the assistance of a service animal, the HOA must grant a waiver from its "no pets" policy as a reasonable accommodation.

However, when a requested change would fundamentally alter an HOA's policy or infringe upon the rights of other residents, it may not qualify as a reasonable accommodation. Balancing the rights of all residents while ensuring compliance with the FHA can be a delicate task for HOA boards.

HOA Requirements Impacted by Disability Accommodations

While HOAs strive to maintain cohesive community environments, disability accommodation requirements may sometimes challenge private restrictive covenants. In this section, we'll discuss the delicate balance HOAs must strike between upholding community standards and ensuring accessibility for disabled residents.

Additionally, the issue of service animals and emotional support animals arises frequently within HOAs. We'll address the specific requirements and considerations HOAs must bear in mind when accommodating these animals under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA).

Private Restrictive Covenants

One challenge HOAs face is reconciling private restrictive covenants with disability accommodation requirements. These covenants maintain a cohesive community environment and protect property values. However, they may conflict with the need to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled residents.

HOAs must carefully evaluate whether a requested accommodation is a "moderate adjustment" that aligns with the original intent of the covenants. By doing so, they can strike a balance between upholding community standards and ensuring accessibility for all residents.

Service Animals & HOA Pet Policy

The issue of service animals and emotional support animals is another aspect of disability accommodation that HOAs encounter frequently. Under the FHAA, HOAs must accommodate service and emotional support animals, even if the community has a no-pets policy.

HOA boards must be well-versed in defining and recognizing service animals and their specific requirements to avoid potential discrimination claims to qualify as reasonable accommodations.

Navigating Disability Accommodations within HOA Requirements

Effective communication is paramount during the disability accommodation process. Below are a few helpful tips for HOAs to foster open communication with individuals seeking reasonable accommodations and ensure a collaborative approach. We’ll clarify the limitations of such inquiries and the interactive process HOAs must engage in to determine suitable accommodations.

Can You Ask about Disabilities?

While HOAs must provide reasonable accommodations, they cannot inquire about an individual's disability. In most cases, if the disability is obvious, the HOA cannot request additional information for verification. However, when the disability is not apparent, the HOA can request information confirming the need for the requested accommodation.

Communication Tips

When a disability accommodation request is made, an HOA must engage in an "interactive process" with the individual to determine their needs. This process involves open communication and collaboration to identify the most suitable accommodation while respecting the privacy of the disabled individual.

  • Respect Privacy and Confidentiality: Be mindful of the sensitive nature of disability-related discussions. Respect the individual's privacy and keep all communication confidential. Avoid discussing the details of the request with others who are not directly involved in the accommodation process.
  • Clarify Expectations and Timelines: Clearly communicate the steps involved in the interactive process and provide a timeline for resolution. Let the individual know what they can expect during the accommodation process, including any follow-up or documentation required.
  • Involve Relevant Parties: If necessary, involve relevant parties such as board members, property managers, or legal advisors to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the situation. Collaboration with the appropriate stakeholders can lead to more informed decisions.
  • Document the Process: Keep a record of all communication and steps taken during the interactive process. This documentation can serve as a reference for future accommodations and helps maintain transparency.
  • Be Flexible and Creative: Be open to exploring different accommodation options and solutions. Sometimes, a creative approach may be necessary to meet the individual's needs while adhering to the HOA's rules and regulations.
  • Educate and Raise Awareness: Promote disability awareness within the HOA community. Educate residents and board members about the importance of accommodating individuals with disabilities and the legal obligations to do so.
  • Follow-Up and Review: After the accommodation is provided, follow up with the individual to ensure their needs are satisfactorily met. Periodically review the accommodation to assess its effectiveness and make adjustments if necessary.

By incorporating these communication tips, your HOA can create a supportive and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, fostering a sense of belonging and ensuring equal access for all community members.

Hire an HOA Property Management Company

Given the complexities of disability accommodation requirements and the potential liability of non-compliance, many HOAs opt to hire a professional property management company. These companies have the expertise and experience to navigate ADA and FHA regulations, ensuring that the HOA is in full compliance and providing necessary accommodations promptly.

Complying with ADA and FHA requirements is essential for HOAs to foster inclusive and accessible communities. By understanding reasonable accommodations and the impact of the Fair Housing Act, HOA boards can effectively navigate disability accommodation requests while maintaining the integrity of their communities. By communicating transparently and bringing in professional property management support, you can stay compliant while creating the best possible community for every resident.

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