Every owner and manager of a housing development understands (or should understand) that disabled applicants and residents have the right to request that properties be modified (reasonable modifications) or that rules be changed or waived (reasonable accommodations) so that the disabled person has an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing. However, the law does not require that every request for an accommodation be granted. Requests may be denied if there is no need for the requested accommodation or if granting the request would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the property or fundamentally alter how the property operates.
In order to demonstrate that an owner has violated fair housing law by failing to grant an accommodation request, an applicant or resident must prove that:
- The request for a reasonable accommodation was made by or on behalf of an individual with a disability;
- The community knew – or was aware of – the disability (owners may verify disabilities that are not obvious);
- The request was necessary for the disabled individual to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the housing (i.e., there is an identifiable connection between the requested accommodation and the disability);
- The request was reasonable (owners should remember that even when a request is determined to be “unreasonable,” the community should engage in an interactive process that examines alternative accommodations that would meet the needs of the disabled person and that are reasonable); and
- The community denied the request.
While owners often believe that any requested accommodation must be granted, this is not the case, as illustrated by a number of recent court cases. In this series of articles, I will examine court cases that have ruled against residents for requested accommodations relating to assistance animals, noise complaints, and smoking. This second article deals with the issue of whether a community has to grant a resident’s request to soundproof a unit.
Poursaied v. Reserve at Research Park, LLC, Alabama, May 2019
Facts of the Case
- A resident filed a lawsuit alleging fair housing violations against Reserve at Research Park, an Alabama apartment community. The suit was filed just 19-days after the resident moved in.
- The resident alleged that she had been harassed and “criminally tortured” by noise at prior apartment complexes since 2006; that she was controlled by neighbors through noise; that noise caused her to fall in 2017 resulting in injuries; and that noise caused her to lose her job and flee her previous apartment in North Carolina.
- In the complaint against Reserve at Research Park, she alleged that its employees promised her a quiet, soundproof unit and failed to accommodate her disability.
- The community asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the resident failed to prove that she was disabled or that it failed to accommodate her due to a disability.
Decision: The court ruled in favor of the community
- The resident did not allege any facts demonstrating that she was disabled under fair housing law.
- She failed to show that she had any disability involving sensitivity to noise.
- Her complaint was not noise sensitivity or disability, but that the noises would be egregious or tortuous to anyone regardless of disability.
- The lease at the property did not provide any special provisions regarding disabilities or accommodations claimed by the resident.
- The resident provided no facts in her complaint as to what the community did or failed to do to accommodate her disability during the 19 days she lived at the property.
- She stated that when she complained to the property management she was told she could move out in 30-days or wait six months for another unit to become available. This demonstrated that the community did not refuse to accommodate her concerns.
- The resident wanted a soundproof unit and the only solution would be to discontinue living in an apartment since no apartment owner could make such a guarantee.
This case demonstrates that housing providers are not required to immediately grant all requests for accommodations. Once a housing provider is aware of an individual’s request for an accommodation, the provider has an opportunity to make a final decision, which necessarily includes the ability to conduct a meaningful review to determine whether the law requires the requested accommodation.
The next article in this series will cover a case that answers the question as to whether a community has to ban neighbors from smoking in their units to accommodate a resident’s asthma.