I like to think of myself as a good teacher, and a good teacher always is willing and open to learning from others. And that is just what I did recently when I was honored to be included in the celebration of the Virginia Fair Housing Act’s 40th anniversary.
As I was talking about the industry’s oft-discussed “3 Question Reasonable Accommodation Form” I was asked the question “Can we deny a reasonable accommodation if the person’s health care provider will not say ‘yes’ to the third question and agree to testify if asked?” I said that I believed it was reasonable to deny the accommodation on that basis. However, a more detailed and eloquent response to the question was forthcoming from Lizbeth T. Hayes, Director of the Virginia Fair Housing Office (who by the way is a most gracious woman). In essence, Liz said that it would be wise to go that extra mile and reach out to the health care provider to see why there is a reluctance to agree to that provision. A simple “Can we talk” may resolve the matter. Perhaps the health care provider is concerned that there will be a significant time commitment to testifying (when truth be told it is unlikely that it will be necessary at all, ever). She shared a story about a health care provider who would not sign the form (although the questions were answered). That is because the landlord had make the signature line read “Physician’s signature” when the health care provider was not a physician (and you, dear reader, know that the health care provider does not have to be a “doctor”).
You want to do the right thing in both the compassionate and smart sense. Before denying a reasonable accommodation request based on incomplete feedback on the “3 Question Form”, go the extra mile and try to get clarification by seeking a bit more information. You can never be too smart in the area of fair housing (I know that!).
PS – And be even smarter and document that “talk”. That way you are better prepared if you should ever hear “Can we talk?” from a plaintiff’s attorney or fair housing advocate.