How should you approach accommodations for the disabled in your Florida community?
Community managers have many responsibilities within the condo or homeowners' associations (HOAs). One of these roles is to ensure that all local and federal laws and regulations are being followed. This includes providing reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, whether physical or mental.
Legislation at both the state and federal level applies to associations in Florida. The most important regulations to be aware of are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Here's what you need to know for your association.
What is considered reasonable accommodation?
It is illegal for HOAs or condo associations to discriminate against disabled people under the FHA, and unless the association makes reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification a priority, the community could be found guilty of discrimination.
Laws and regulations use the term “reasonable accommodation” when referring to the steps that need to be taken within an association.
A reasonable accommodation would be a modification or change that doesn't cause an undue burden on the association, including a financial burden or change the nature of the community or housing being offered.
The modification is a change or adjustment that allows a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, which also includes common spaces within an association. It is a change in physical practices or rules and policies.
- Constructing wheelchair ramps
- Allowing a person with a disability to have a service or emotional support animal when pets aren't otherwise allowed
- Installing a grab bar in a resident's bathroom
- Including an accessible parking space
- Allowing a resident to live on the ground floor
These reasonable accommodations most likely will not cause a significant burden to the community and thus should be provided for a disabled resident.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Many of the guidelines in the ADA apply to public spaces and facilities. They detail requirements for building construction, which normally don't apply to HOAs or condo associations since these are usually private residential communities. Accessibility requirements include things like wide entrance and exit doors, accessible ramps, elevators, accessible light switches and outlets, and accessible pathways and sidewalks.
However, if your association has a sales or rental office that sees public traffic or has spaces that can be used by the general public, including swimming pools, exercise areas, or tennis courts, the ADA guidelines would apply to these spaces.
If any of these situations apply to your community, you must ensure that you make modifications to these areas so that they are equally as accessible to disabled persons.
The Fair Housing Act
The FHA is a federal law and prohibits discrimination when someone is trying to rent or buy a home. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits a person's ability to participate in activities of daily life. This could include a physical disability, a chronic or mental illness, or some other condition.
Under the FHA, landlords must provide reasonable exceptions to rules as well as modifications to living spaces and common areas to accommodate those with disabilities. Different housing costs or fees cannot be charged to disabled persons.
Other guidelines under the FHA include that a landlord cannot:
- discuss a person's disability with other tenants
- assign a disabled person a different section of a building or neighborhood
- refuse to rent or sell housing to a disabled person
- limit services for disabled individuals
Working with an association attorney in Florida
Navigating these laws and regulations can be daunting for an HOA or condo association. It's wise to meet with an attorney to consult about whether you're meeting requirements and if you should make any changes to policies or procedures. If a person with a disability is joining your community, an attorney can ensure that you're not breaking laws under the ADA or the FHA.
It's never worth the risk for your association. Make sure you take these matters seriously so that all community residents are treated equally, and you're not putting the association at risk of legal violations.
Contact the team at PeytonBolin when you have questions about accessibility requirements in your HOA or condo association. Our legal professionals are experienced in assisting with day-to-day management, litigation, and consulting.