In last week’s post, Fair Housing Act Trap for Real Estate Owners and Agents, I wrote about the Fair Housing Act and how it poses risks to those who own or manage rental housing. Those risks include being charged with discrimination for treating persons with disabilities differently from other customers.
This week’s post provides guidance on Reasonable Accommodations.
Request for Accommodation
Your obligation to provide an accommodation is triggered when a current or potential customer makes a request for one. The request could be crystal clear, such as: “I use a wheelchair. Can you fit it in your vehicle when you pick me up to view the houses you are going to show me?”
It could also be more obscure such as mentioning that she uses a wheelchair but nothing more.
When in doubt, treat the comment as a request for an accommodation.
An accommodation is a variation to your business rules, policies or procedures. It might involve using a sign language interpreter to help a customer who has a hearing impairment.
You are only obligated to make accommodations that are reasonable in terms of the cost and disruption to your business. It may well be reasonable to offer a sign-language interpreter who communicates in English, due to the ready availability of people trained in that commonly spoken language.
It may not be reasonable for the customer to expect that you will hire interpreters for every possible language.
The Proper Response Revisited
To any request for an accommodation, the proper response is some variation on: “How may I help you?”
Have a conversation that will allow you to understand the customer’s underlying needs. You will then be able to evaluate the request and to suggest other solutions that will also work.
You are required to provide a reasonable accommodation. You are not required to provide the exact one the customer requests.
Seek Legal Counsel Before You Have a Problem
The Fair Housing Act is complicated. Many states have their own anti-discrimination laws that add more complexity. This is an area in which you would be wise to consult proactively with a lawyer licensed in your state who is adept at helping you comply!
Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.
© 2018 Michael S. Oswald