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"But those stairs were there when they moved in..."

I have recently had a number of questions come my way with the underlying theme of “Didn’t they know they had this problem before they moved in?”  One time it was in the context of a resident who wanted to terminate their lease just two months in because of anxiety issues.  Another time it was about a resident who just moved in and “all of a sudden” needs a service animal (one outside of the pet parameters). And yet another involved a resident who was struggling with stairs “that were there when they moved in” and wanted to relocate to a downstairs unit.

Three times is the charm for me – when I hear the same issue come up that often, I think that if three folks are asking me about something, it needs to be addressed.  And voila, a blog is born.

So here is what I want you to know.

1.       A prospect/applicant/resident does not have to give you even a hint that they are a PWD (Person with Disability) until such time as they are good and ready to share that with you (if ever).

2.       A PWD can and may ask you to reasonably accommodate them whenever they believe it is necessary to do so.  Perhaps that will be early on, when they are only mildly interested in your community.  It may be when they are actually applying to live there.  Or it may be any time during the lease term – days, weeks or months later.

3.       If you can see the PWD’s disability and the request is reasonable (as would be seen by a judge, jury or fair housing advocate) then accommodate.

4.       If you cannot see the PWD’s disability or its connection to the reasonable accommodation for which they are asking, then you may verify that there is a disability (but of course not what it is) and that their request is connected to that.  So, for my third example above, you could ask “because of our resident’s disability is it necessary for them to move to a downstairs unit at this time rather than when their current lease ends in (month)?”

5.       Remember this: disabilities can happen (to any of us) unexpectedly; disabilities can worsen over time (sometimes gradually, sometimes dramatically quickly).

6.       Remember this, too:  A PWD does not have to use any “magic words” for you to be required to consider and/or provide a reasonable accommodation. 

So maybe the PWD with anxiety issues thought they could manage well as a resident with you, but have found that their disability does not allow for that and they need out of their lease now.  Maybe the PWD has just been told that having an animal will be a way for them to better cope with their disability and they need that animal.  And maybe the resident who is struggling with the stairs that were there all along has recently had a stroke or fall, or an existing condition that has recently worsened, and they need a ground floor apartment.

Be smart, folks.  Many fair housing claims are brought by residents (already living at your community) with disabilities. 

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