Reasonable Accommodations In HOAs

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Board members must know how to navigate reasonable accommodations in HOA communities. By doing so, HOA boards can avoid potential liability and accommodate residents with disabilities.

Understanding Reasonable Accommodations in HOA

HOA residents come from all walks of life, some of whom have disabilities. Now and then, a disabled resident will ask their association for a reasonable accommodation to make life in the community easier. When this happens, an HOA board must know how to handle the request.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an HOA reasonable accommodation is “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.”

Reasonable Accommodation vs Reasonable Modification

According to the Fair Housing Act, a reasonable modification differs from a reasonable accommodation. A modification is any change to a building’s public or common-use spaces or any change to a dwelling. Meanwhile, a reasonable accommodation has more to do with changes to a rule, policy, practice, or service.

What Is the Fair Housing Act?

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is a landmark piece of legislation in the United States to combat housing discrimination. The U.S. government enacted the FHA in response to widespread racial discrimination in housing markets. It prohibits discrimination by housing providers based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability.

The FHA generally applies to homeowners associations and condominiums. Additionally, associations must adhere to many states’ fair housing laws. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is enforced by the state’s Civil Rights Department.

Can HOA Restrict Requests for Reasonable Accommodations?

Both the FHA and California’s FEHA require HOA accommodations for disabled residents. Associations must reasonably accommodate a disabled resident’s request to modify their dwelling or the common areas to address their disability. The resident must make these modifications, though, at their own expense.

There are many instances where reasonable accommodations in HOAs are necessary. If a common facility is inaccessible to a resident who has a walking disability, they might ask to install a wheelchair ramp or handrails.

There are certain conditions, though, that apply to the right to modify common areas. These include the following:

  1. Modifications should not compromise the structural integrity or mechanical systems of any part of the development or diminish support for any area.
  2. Modifications must adhere to relevant building codes.
  3. Modifications must align with the governing documents concerning safety and aesthetics.
  4. Owners intending to make modifications must submit plans to the association. The association must accept them with valid reasons.
  5. Modifications should be clear to allow reasonable passage for other residents. If the resident requiring the modification vacates the unit, the modification must be dismantled. However, removal is not an automatic requirement. The association may request their removal if the alterations negatively impact future occupants. Otherwise, the improvements can remain.

Interactive Process Required

When a resident submits a request for reasonable accommodation, the HOA must enter an informal “interactive process” with the submitter. After establishing the need for the accommodation, the HOA should identify what the disabled resident needs and determine the accommodation necessary. If an HOA fails to do this in good faith, it could face potential liability.

Licensed Contractor

An HOA board may require residents to hire a licensed and insured contractor for reasonable modifications to the common areas. The board can also mandate that the contractor secure the appropriate building permits before commencing work.

Can an HOA Ask for Proof of Disability?

After receiving a request for reasonable accommodation, an HOA may doubt a person’s disability and ask for proof. However, this can be slippery, so HOA boards should not do this carelessly.

If the resident’s disability is obvious, the HOA cannot ask for additional information or evidence of the disability. That said, if the disability is not obvious, the HOA may ask for further information that verifies the following:

  • The resident has a disability;
  • There is a need for reasonable accommodation, and,
  • The connection between the disability and the reasonable accommodation requested.

Reasonable Accommodations in HOA: Upholding Confidentiality

Confidentiality is a must when it comes to reasonable accommodations. An HOA board should never divulge or disclose any information pertaining to a resident’s disability, including the resident’s request for reasonable accommodation and any medical information associated with the person.

Section 12176(b)(1) of the California Code of Regulations makes this abundantly clear. If an HOA shares any such information with other parties, the association and the board may be in legal trouble.

Reasonable Accommodations in HOA: Understanding Discrimination

The Act defines discrimination as “a refusal to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.” 

Furthermore, the statute deems it illegal to refuse reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations are needed to provide equal opportunity for the handicapped individual to utilize and enjoy a dwelling.

Does My HOA Have to Comply With ADA in California?

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In 1990, President George H.W. Bush enacted the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The law ensures equal opportunities and safeguards the rights of individuals with disabilities. This legislation governs private and public facilities, paralleling the jurisdiction of the federal FHA.

Homeowner associations, as private residential communities, typically fall outside the scope of the ADA. This means that the ADA does not generally apply to these associations. However, some sections may.

Portions of the common areas accessible to the public must adhere to ADA regulations, as affirmed in Coronado v. Cobblestone Village. The ADA applies to community association property open to the general public, even for occasional or limited events.

While purely residential HOAs typically evade ADA requirements if their property remains closed to the public, they still must adhere to the FHA. Moreover, California’s FEHA also mandates HOAs to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

When Does the ADA Apply to HOAs?

Generally, the ADA applies to common amenities and spaces in an HOA that are not exclusive to residents. In other words, these areas are open to the public. Under the ADA, all public and government facilities must comply with the regulations concerning reasonable accommodations.

If an HOA operates a public accommodation, it must ensure that the public area or facility complies with the ADA. Here are some examples of situations or spaces in an HOA that may fall under the scope of the ADA:

  • The HOA has a rental office within the premises that regularly welcomes visits from the general public
  • The HOA rents out an amenity or facility to the general public (including selling membership passes to use the pool or courts)
  • Churches, clubs, or schools utilize the amenities or facilities of the HOA regularly
  • The HOA is part of a timeshare
  • Charity events
  • Tennis or golf tournaments that allow members of the general public to attend as viewers

Any common area within the association utilized for public events must comply with ADA regulations. Similarly, if the HOA organizes an event that invites members of the general public, that event space must adhere to ADA guidelines. This can also include parking spaces that are open to guests.

The ADA can still apply even if a common space or facility is not always open to the general public. As such, an HOA should carefully consider its options and consult a lawyer before opening its community to members of the public. Otherwise, the association could quickly land itself in hot water.

Hiring an HOA Lawyer or Management Company

Reasonable accommodations may seem simple, but many HOA boards struggle with the subject. An HOA should consider hiring an HOA lawyer or management company to make matters easier.

HOA lawyers are well-versed in federal and state laws that apply to associations, including the FHA and California’s FEHA. They know how to address reasonable accommodation requests and approach each situation carefully. They can advise board members on the appropriate actions to take.

Similarly, HOA management companies offer legal assistance to associations. They handle reasonable accommodation requests regularly. If a self-managed board wants to delegate the job to a professional, hiring an HOA management company is best.

The Bottom Line

Managing reasonable accommodations in HOA communities is essential for fostering inclusivity while minimizing potential liability. By understanding the requirements outlined in federal and state laws, HOA boards can navigate requests for accommodations effectively. Proactively addressing reasonable accommodation requests can also benefit HOAs. With this, an HOA board can create a welcoming and accessible community while fulfilling its legal obligations.

Personalized Property Management offers expert management services to HOAs and condos in Southern California. Call us today at 760-325-9500 or email us at to learn more!