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Fair Housing Act

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act is known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The intent of the FHA is to ban housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin in most housing transactions. In 1988 the FHA was amended and families with children and people with disabilities were added as protected classes.

New Construction

In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:

  • Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs
  • All units must have:
    • An accessible route into and through the unit
    • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
    • Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars, and
    • Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

If a building with four or more units has no elevator and was ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units.

These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.

Reasonable Accommodations

According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is unlawful for any person to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in the rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.

A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, adaptation or modification to a policy, program or service, which will allow a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.

What are some examples of reasonable accommodations?

  • allowing a person with a disability to mail the rent instead of delivering it to the office;
  • assigning a parking space closest to the exit or unit to tenants with mobility disabilities;
  • allowing persons with disabilities to keep service or quality of life animals, despite a general "no pets" policy;
  • not counting a home health aide, therapist, nurse, etc. as an additional tenant or guest;
  • allowing a tenant to move to a more suitable unit when one becomes available;
  • releasing a tenant with disabilities, who must move because of his/her disability, from lease requirements.

Reasonable Modifications

According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is unlawful for any person to refuse to permit, at the expense of a person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.

A reasonable modification is a physical change made to a tenant or owner’s living space or common area which is necessary to afford the disabled tenant full enjoyment of his dwelling. Modifications are usually made at the tenant’s expense, except in the case of federally funded housing.

What are some examples of reasonable modifications?

Some reasonable modifications for a tenant with a disability might be:

  • building ramps over steps to allow wheelchair access
  • installing lever door openers instead of knob openers
  • widening door openings by installing swing-away hinges or wider pocket doors
  • installing grab bars and hand rails
  • installing wheelchair accessible shower stalls
  • changing tub faucets to an off-set location
  • removing under-the-sink cupboards in bathrooms
  • lowering light switches

Requests

Tips for Requesting Reasonable Accommodations or Modifications from Your Condominium or Home Owner’s Association

Check with your housing provider, management company or Board of Director’s member to determine if there is a specific method for requesting accommodations or modifications already established.  Some housing entities have specific forms that they use for accommodation and modification requests.  If those exist, you should use them when making your request.

If no such forms or specific process exists, the next best method for submitting your request is by letter.  The letter should be sent by certified mail to the property manager and all members of the Board of Directors.  Keep copies of these letters and delivery confirmation for your records.

If you are requesting a reasonable accommodation please provide as much detail about the accommodation as possible.  If you know of resources that can assist the property manager or Board of Directors in providing the accommodation you may wish to provide that information as well.  (For example, if you are requesting materials in Braille and know of a company that can provide the service at a reasonable cost, you can provide the company’s contact information.)

If you are requesting permission to make a modification to the property, please include the following information in your letter:

  • A full description of the intended modification
  • Ensure that the modifications will be done by a licensed professional and that the appropriate permits will be acquired

It is also recommended that you attach to your letter, or prepare to provide at a later date, documentation verifying that you are a person with a disability and that the accommodation or modification is necessary to afford you equal use/enjoyment of the premises.  You should contact your healthcare provider and request that he/she submit a letter on his/her letterhead to your property manger and/or Board of Directors.  This letter should contain the following information at a minimum:

  • Identify you as a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Act
  • Verify that, in your (professional-what if the person is not a professional?) opinion, you need the accommodation/modification in order to use/enjoy the property as well as a non-disabled person.

 

Elevators

In Florida where high-rise condominiums and apartment buildings are as abundant as the sun and sand, elevator outages are of particular concern to Floridians with disabilities.  Here are a few tips to help you when your condominium or apartment elevator stops working:

  • Contact your condominium association or maintenance company IMMEDIATELY to ensure that the elevator outage has been reported and to inquire about what actions are being taken to expedite repair.  Most condominium associations and apartment buildings contract with an elevator service to provide maintenance and emergency service.  Keep in mind that it may take 24+ hours for an elevator technician to respond to the outage. 
  • Following your initial call, be diligent and call each subsequent day that the elevator is out of service.  Inquire as to when the elevator is expected to be repaired and what specifically is being done to expedite the repair.  Ask if repair parts have been ordered, if necessary, and when the parts will be picked up or delivered.  Unfortunately, a broken elevator does take time to repair.  Depending on the problem, it is not uncommon for a standard repair requiring new parts to take between 2-3 days. 
  • Inform your condominium association or maintenance company that you are a person with a disability and having use of a safe and well functioning elevator is a NECCESSITY and not a convenience.  Put your concerns in writing.     

Unfortunately, legitimate elevator repairs can take numerous days and even weeks or months to complete.  This occurs especially in older buildings where repair parts are difficult to find, elevators may need to be completely replaced or modifications for code compliance are extensive. 

In the event that this occurs in your building, planning is essential. As such, you may wish to:

  • Relocate temporarily to another unit or apartment on a lower level if one is available. 
  • Discuss strategy with management to minimize the duration of the outage.  Perhaps work can be broken into sections with the elevator being operational intermittently.
  • Contact your local Emergency Rescue Department.  Alert them of the issue and your concerns.  They will be able to provide some assistance. 
  • Contact your local Center for Independent Living to inquire about funding for temporary lodging.
  • You may also visit the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations, Bureau of Elevator Safety website, or contact them at 850-487-1395. The Bureau reviews and investigates complaints pertaining to elevator safety and compliance. 

Click here to view Florida Statue, Chapter 399, pertaining to elevator safety.

Please keep in mind that not all elevator outages are a violation of the Fair Housing Act.