New Guidance on Reasonable Modifications under Fair Housing Act


 Kevin King  |    April 03, 2008
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice have released a new guidance designed to give housing providers and homeowner’s associations a better understanding of their obligations to allow “reasonable modifications” to a dwelling or common area by persons with disabilities under the federal Fair Housing Act (Act). The right to make such modifications is essential to ensuring that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy the dwellings in which they live.

As we know, the Act prohibits discrimination in housing on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. HUD and DOJ share responsibility for enforcing the Act. HUD is the agency with primary responsibility for investigation of individual discrimination complaints.

One type of discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal by housing providers or homeowner’s associations to permit a reasonable modification (a structural alteration of the existing premises occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability) when the modification may be necessary to provide that person with full enjoyment of the premises. Although the Act requires the housing provider or homeowners association to permit the modification, the person seeking the modification is responsible for the cost thereof. Examples of reasonable modifications include widening doorways to make rooms more accessible to persons who use wheelchairs, installing grab bars in bathrooms or installing a ramp to provide access to a primary entrance or to a common area, such as a clubhouse.

The new guidelines are issued in a question and answer format, covering topics such as:

  1. What is a reasonable modification under the Act? Must there be a relationship between the requested modification and the individual’s disability?
  2. Who is responsible for the expense of making a reasonable modification? Who is responsible for the expenses of upkeep and/or maintenance of the modification?
  3. Who qualifies as a person with a disability under the Act?
  4. If a disability is not obvious, what kinds of information may a housing provider or homeowners association request from a person with a disability in support of a requested modification?
  5. What is the difference between a reasonable accommodation and a reasonable modification?
  6. Are reasonable modifications restricted to the interior of the dwelling?
  7. When and how should an individual request permission to make a modification? Does the individual need to have the permission of the housing provider or homeowner’s association before proceeding with the reasonable modification?
  8. If an individual makes a reasonable modification to the interior of the dwelling, must the dwelling be restored to its original condition before the individual moves out? If yes, at whose expense?
  9. If an individual makes a reasonable modification to the exterior of the dwelling, must the dwelling be restored to its original condition before the individual moves out?
  10. If a person believes that he or she has been unlawfully denied a reasonable modification, what can that individual do?

The complete guidelines are available on the REALTOR® Resource pages at www.wra.org/fairhousing by clicking on the “Fair Housing-Equal Opportunity” link under Business Practice Resources. They may also be obtained at www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing and www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities.

Kevin King is General Counsel for the WRA.

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