Legal Issues Reasonable Accomodation Requests Present Challenges

As the population ages, homeowner association boards and property managers are more frequently dealing with requests from condominium and cooperative owners and residents to accommodate a handicap or disability by adding to or changing the common areas in some way. These requests vary from the relatively simple and inexpensive, such as leveling an uneven step to allow wheelchair access or installing a handrail for support, to the more “politically” complicated, such as providing a handicapped parking space closer to a front or rear door, allowing a washer/dryer in a unit when washers and dryers are prohibited in all other units; or allowing a pet when pets are prohibited.

Requests Can be Expensive

Other requests may be quite expensive, such as installing a stair chair in a commonhallway, or installing another secondary means of egress from a unit when the existing one is not easily accessible due to a disability.

Oftentimes, the initial response of the board or property manager is to deny the request because it seems to be unreasonable, the cost is prohibitive, or the unit owner’s disability is not readily apparent. An initial, inappropriate denial is a mistakewhich may lead to extensive litigation for the association, and in some cases, monetary damages.

The legally correct (and politically wise) initial response from a board to an oral request for an accommodation is, “Yes, the board will reasonably accommodate your disability, but we need to better understand your request and the reasons why you are making the request. Please submit the request in writing, and explainwhy the accommodation is necessary.”

It is important to note that if a disability is known or apparent to the board, it maynot request further information about the requester’s disability; a request for further information is permitted only if necessary to evaluate the disability-related need for the accommodation. If the request for accommodation is made in writing, the response should state that “the board will reasonably accommodate the disability, but investigation of the request is required.”


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