Reasonable Accommodation - Accommodating Residents With Allergies

A reasonable accommodation by definition is an adjustment made in a system to accommodate or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need.  That is a solid definition coming from Wikipedia.

Reasonable Accommodation - Resident Allergies

The focus of this article will be on working with a resident who notifies management of allergies that they deal with. It can be difficult for management to provide reasonable accommodations to residents with allergies.  What can you do? What are some best practices?

As many of you have experienced, it appears that the occurrences of residents with severe allergies, asthma, and multiple chemical sensitivity are increasing. These types of situations can create difficult problems for management attempting to meet the needs of the residents. They want to provide reasonable accommodations, while also not limiting the use of chemicals and products by other residents and staff.

As an example, let's review the situation of Mike Jones, a resident of Happy Village. Mike has allergies to fresh paint and he has requested that no new paint be applied anywhere inside his building. The first issue is whether Mike is disabled and therefore entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

Is The Allergy A Disability Or Not?

The Fair Housing Act defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If Mike's symptoms are minimal, arguably he's not substantially limited by his allergies, and thus not disabled. For most of us with allergies, while the reactions may be uncomfortable, it is probably reasonable to state that those reactions do not rise to the level of a disability.

If the allergy is not a disability, then management is not legally required to accommodate Mike. On the other hand, if paint fumes cause Mike's throat to close and hives to break out on his body, these symptoms would probably be considered a fairly substantial limitation on his major life activities. In this case, only a third party verifier can determine whether Mike is disabled, and, if so, what accommodations his disability requires to enable him to live in his apartment.

For purposes of our example, let's say that Mike has provided verification from his doctor that his allergy is a disability. It states that he needs to be far away whenever paint is applied and for at least 48 hours afterward. In this example, a reasonable accommodation would be to resist painting within Mike's apartment while he lived there. Management may also provide him notice whenever anyone is planning to paint within his building.

Another reasonable accommodation would be to discuss with Mike whether it would be helpful to perform all painting within the same time period if possible. Mike could then choose to remove himself from the building for 48 hours after the inception of the painting. It is not management's responsibility to pay for alternative housing arrangements if Mike decides to leave the building for a few days whenever painting is planned.

Reasonable Accommodation Or Unreasonable?

We recently learned of a resident who requested that none of the other residents within his building use any types of chemicals within their own apartments without providing the resident with one hour prior notice. While for persons with multiple chemical sensitivity this may be a preferable situation, it is unlikely that this request would ever be deemed to be reasonable in multifamily housing. While management would be justified in refusing to require such a limitation, it would be a reasonable accommodation to send a letter to the other residents requesting that no chemicals be used outside the apartments or in the common areas.

As you can see there is no cookie cutter approach to dealing with what a reasonable accommodation is and is not.  It is a broad topic that requires education and training.  Reviewing potential scenarios, like the ones discussed, can also provide perspective.  Property management professionals are best served when this topic is regularly trained on and discussed as a group.  Dealing with reasonable accommodation requests can be quite dynamic.  Work together as a team.  Know the law. Understand your policies and procedures.  Review other company cases to help provide context.  The more you know the better you will be off when dealing with reasonable accommodation requests.