Historic Housing Discrimination Settlement Highlights Housing Providers’ Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act
Historic Housing Discrimination Settlement Highlights Housing Providers’ Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act

Categories: Civil Rights & Voting, Housing

By Guest Blogger Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

Recently, the federal government reached an unprecedented $1.25 million settlement in U.S. v. Warren Properties, Inc., a housing discrimination case that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged in 2009. Jeremiah Stadtlander has paraplegia and relies on leg braces and crutches to get around. He lived in a second-floor apartment owned by Warren Properties, and made repeated requests for a transfer to a first-floor apartment because of his disability. Warren Properties refused to honor his accommodation request and Mr. Stadtlander suffered serious injuries on the stairs that increased the severity of his disability and eventually forced him to move out of the development.

The facts in a case need not be as dramatic as those in Warren to constitute discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct). Mr. Stadtlander’s disability was visible and the danger of navigating stairs with his braces and crutches was clear, yet the housing provider refused an accommodation that was reasonable and would afford Mr. Stadtlander the opportunity to continue residing in the development.  Often, however, the requester’s disability is not obvious, and the relationship, or nexus, between the accommodation and the disability is not as evident.

In my post on May 3, 2010, I addressed reasonable accommodations under the FHAct in the specific context of assistance animals and “no pets” policies. Today, I want to use Warren as a springboard to discuss the FHAct’s requirement of a nexus between an individual’s disability and the requested accommodation, and when proof of a disability and need for the specific accommodation may be requested by a housing provider.

The premise underlying the FHAct’s reasonable accommodation provisions is that rules, policies, practices and services may have a different impact on persons with disabilities than on “non-disabled” persons, and that treating persons with disabilities exactly the same as non-disabled persons may deny them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Thus, the FHAct makes it unlawful “to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” 

A reasonable accommodation must have an identifiable relationship to an individual’s disability.  Warren provides an example of a clear nexus: Mr. Stadtlander’s disability required him to use braces and crutches; therefore, a first-floor apartment was necessary to allow him to reside in the development. Without the accommodation, the risk of injury made his continued tenancy impossible. 

However, not all cases are as clear-cut as Warren. Consider, for example, a tenant who has a neurological condition that causes intermittent periods of significant weakness, preventing her from walking more than a short distance. Suppose the tenant requests a transfer to a first-floor unit and a parking space closer to her building, but her housing provider doubts her need for the accommodation because the tenant appears capable of ambulating without the need for assistive devices. This raises the question of what kinds of information the housing provider may request from the tenant to support the request.  

In a case where the requester’s disability is not obvious, a housing provider may request disability-related information that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the FHAct’s definition of disability, (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are various ways in which an individual may establish his or her disability, including verification from a doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency or a reliable third party who knows about the individual's disability. It is helpful when such verification describes the nexus between the accommodation and the individual’s disability.

If there is no disability-related need for the accommodation or if the accommodation is unreasonable – i.e., it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider's operations – the housing provider may deny the request. This determination must be made on a case-by-case basis. 

I appreciate the opportunity to share the news of this historic settlement with you. HUD believes it is our obligation to educate the public on their rights and responsibilities under the FHAct so that individuals with disabilities receive assistance before they endure harm, and housing providers understand their duty to honor reasonable accommodation requests. The Warren settlement is a just result for Jeremiah Stadtlander and should assure individuals with disabilities across the nation that HUD and the U.S. Department of Justice will vigorously enforce their right to equal housing opportunities.

More information on reasonable accommodations can be found in the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice:  Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act

If you believe you are a victim of housing discrimination, please visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp for information on the Fair Housing Act and the complaint filing process.

Bryan Greene is the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this position, he is charged with overseeing the policy direction and operational management of this 600-person office. Under his leadership, HUD has pursued large-scale high-profile cases that address systemic discrimination and provide widespread relief. Mr. Greene has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination and promoting diverse, inclusive communities.

10 Responses to Historic Housing Discrimination Settlement Highlights Housing Providers’ Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act

  1. Richard V. says:

    To Jill S. – You prefer to live on the 2nd floor, whereas he preferred to live on the first floor! You were not denied your Disability Rights, but he was and that is where the FHAA Law was broken! Don’t you get it?

  2. Hunt says:

    To Michael S: I am sorry that you lost your wife whom you loved so much, obvious in your post. It is shameful that none who promised help bothered to follow through and your anger is understandable and warranted. You did all you could do to help your wife. Any woman would be fortunate to have such a devoted husband. God bless you. You will be in my prayers.

  3. Jackie says:

    Thanks for posting this information. Landlords need to understand that when disabled peple ask for needed changes, they need to provide them. This guy was partially paralyzed and pulling himself up stairs! If you read the documents attached – the landlord promised him a bottom floor unit when he signed the lease, telling the guy he would only have to live upstairs for a short time. Then the landlord changed his mind! Can any reasonable person see that this is a problem? He wasn’t asking for free rent or some special above and beyond treatment – just what was promised. Thank God the government is doing something to help the disabled.

  4. Jill S. says:

    I personally feel that this award was unwarranted. I have a neurological condition myself and do not expect my landlord to cater to my needs because I cannot walk on some occasions and climb my stairs. This is my Choice. I prefer to live on the second flr. for many reasons and put up with my health problems I have to live with.
    – Jill S.

  5. Michael S. says:

    My wife and I are both disabled. She passed away just last year. I tried to get a wheelchair ramp added on our home. I reseached so many organizations for help – what a joke!! What good are they if they can’t help?!! I finally found HOPE BUILDERS who said they would build the ramp, but I needed to come up with a deposit, which is hard to do on a fixed income and with a mortgage!! After finally getting ahold of the Kidney Foundation, they said they would authorize the money. BIG JOKE!!!! IT NEVER CAME AROUND. I FOUND OUT THAT THE PERSON HANDLING IT TOOK OFF FOR A MONTH ON A VACATION WITHOUT GIVING IT TO ANYONE!! THEY KNEW MY WIFE WAS DYING AND DIDN’T WANT TO WASTE THE MONEY ON SOMEONE WHO WAS GOING TO DIE ANYWAY! SO I TRIED MY LOCAL NEWS, CALL FOR ACTION, CONTACTED THEM VIA INTERNET AND THEIR COMPETITOR, ACTION NEWS 5. BOTH OF THEM DID NOT RESPOND TO HELP!! BUT I WOULD SEE THEM HELP OTHERS IN SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT NOT MINE!! I GOT AN EMAIL FROM HOPE BUILDERS ASKING IF I STILL WANT THE RAMP BUILT? I TOLD THEM MY WIFE WAS DEAD AND THE IDIOTS DID NOT COME THROUGH WITH THE HELP LIKE WE WERE PROMISED! I AM TIRED OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS ASKING FOR MONEY, BUT THEY DO NOT HELP REAL PEOPLE WHO NEED IT THE MOST. I FEEL SO BETRAYED AND LET DOWN! I FEEL I SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAVE A LAWYER TO SUE FOR NOT GETTING THE RAMP!! I CALLED SO MANY PEOPLE ONLY TO BE TURNED AWAY FROM SO MANY ORGANIZATIONS! WHAT GOOD IS THERE HAVING SO MANY OF THEM IF NOT ONE CAN EVEN HELP ME OUT WITH A STINKING WHEELCHAIR RAMP?!

  6. Lorie W. says:

    When the sewer backed up in my mobile home, I had to get a lawyer who settled with the property owners insurance. I went to legal aid and got a free lawyer. I am disabled, too.

  7. Shirlie P. says:

    You have not taken into consideration that he may have been more mobile when he originally took the apt., or maybe he tried to get a different place, but no one is motivated to help someone with a disability.

  8. Temi says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I never knew housing associations are allowed to do these things and get away with it. I do hope lawmakers get to see this sort of post, act accordingly and show compassion.

  9. Patti O. says:

    This made me very angry. I am a retired Property Manager. We took FHA training EVERY year. Did you know that when we show an empty apartment we must offer to show all the apartments that are empty in our units? That we are not even ALLOWED to SUGGEST a first floor apartment to someone like Mr. Stadtlander who is OBVIOUSLY disabled or even to mention that HE is DISABLED? There are a lot of people out there who are looking for a lawsuit these days and if they insist on a 2nd floor or 3rd floor unit, for that matter, we cannot refuse to rent to them! Isn’t there something wrong with that picture and where are the big rewards coming from? Our pockets. AND, YES I AM DISABLED and know enough to live on the lst floor!

  10. Susan W. says:

    We had a flood in our multi unit dwelling. Several apartments (mine included) had SEWER water ankle deep. The maintenace did not bother to change the drywall that the SEWER water ran through.They claimed they could dry the inside of the walls by putting fans on the outside of the wall for a couple of days. Everyone here has some sort of breathing problems now: sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis, etc. I have asked the head of our housing about changing the drywall twice; her response was that it is not needed; without checking for mold. What can I do to get this fixed, without getting thrown out? I am low income and disabled. Can someone please help us?