What About Fair Housing?

The Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA), passed in 1988, extended fair housing law to cover people with disabilities. The FHAA covers all housing to a limited extent, not just public housing. Much of the law prohibits discrimination during the act of buying, selling, or renting a home or apartment to an individual with a disability. However, some aspects of the law pertain to individuals already living in their rental units.

The two aspects of the FHAA that you may encounter while working on this project are: reasonable accommodations/modifications and the Design and Construction requirements for new construction (D&C requirements). Reasonable accommodations can include structural modifications or policy changes. According to the FHAA and the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a housing provider must allow a person with disabilities to make a reasonable structural modification to the unit to allow the person to have full use and enjoyment of the housing unit and its related facilities. However, in most cases (more on this below), the cost of the modification will lie with the tenant. In addition, the FHAA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations in policies, practices, rules, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing unit. The Design and Construction requirements of the FHAA apply to any newly constructed apartment complexes with 4 or more housing units as well as any apartments constructed on or after March 13th, 1991. There is a chance that the consumer you are working with lives in a housing unit that is covered by the D&C requirements. These requirements stipulate that seven accessible design features be present in any unit on the ground floor of the building if the building does not have an elevator, and all units in the building if it does. These seven features are:
  1. At least one building entrance must be on an accessible route.
  2. All public and common use areas must be readily accessible.
  3. All doors into and within all premises must be wide enough to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs.
  4. All premises must contain an accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.
  5. All light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and environmental controls must be placed in an accessible location.
  6. Reinforcements in the bathroom walls for later installation of grab bars around toilet, tub, and shower must be provided.
  7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms must be provided so that a person who uses a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.
For people living in FHAA covered housing, there is real possibility that a consumer’s home usability needs will be covered in some way. This is one of the reasons it is so important to have an individual from your local non-profit fair housing agency on your network. They can help you negotiate the complexities of fair housing regulation and can help you better inform the consumer about the pros and cons of filing a complaint. TIP: Having knowledge of fair housing law will come in handy when working with reluctant landlords. For example, if a landlord is reluctant about approving a structural modification, a letter from the fair housing organization explaining the tenant’s fair housing rights, can help bolster your arguments.