The Cross Law Firm's Landlord Law Blog

February 17, 2010

Reasonable Accommodations for the Disabled: Your legal responsibilities as an owner or manager (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a 4-part blog series advising manufactured home community managers/owners on accommodating disabled tenants.

Under both federal and state laws, owners of manufactured home communities and their agents are prohibited from discriminating against disabled individuals in the renting of homesites spaces or community-owned manufactured homes. Discrimination against disabled individuals includes not only the refusal of an owner or manager to rent to a disabled person, but also the failure to make reasonable accommodations to allow disabled individuals an equal opportunity to fully use and enjoy the premises.

WHAT IS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?

There are two types of “reasonable accommodations” that affect rentals of manufactured home communities:

(1) Reasonable modifications of community policies, procedures and practices

(2) Reasonable modifications of the premises.

Modifying community policies, procedures and practices If an existing rule or policy of the community limits or restricts a disabled individual from equally and fully enjoying the premises, the community may have a responsibility to modify the rule or policy in an effort to “reasonably accommodate” the disabled individual. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation is difficult to define, just as it is difficult to apply a bright-line definition to what constitutes a reasonable rule or regulation under the Mobilehome Residency Law. Examples of what courts have determined to be a reasonable accommodation, and the factors on which the courts base these decisions, is the best source for determining what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Please note that what constitutes a reasonable accommodation will be based on the specific facts of each situation.

There are, however, a few bright-line modifications of community policies that have been established by law. Use of guide, signal, or service dog California Civil Code Section 54.1, otherwise known as the Unruh Act, prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals who require guide, signal or service dogs. If the applicant or resident is blind or visually impaired and needs a guide dog, is deaf or hearing impaired and needs a signal dog, or has any other disability that requires the use of a service dog, the pet policies of the community must be modified to allow the individual to keep the dog on the premises. The community is prohibited from charging a pet fee or additional deposit for the guide, signal, or service dog. The community may, however, create reasonable pet rules for this dog and the disabled individual will be liable for any property damage caused by the dog. Income of spouse Another required modification to a community’s policies under the Unruh Act is that the aggregate income of both a disabled individual and his or her spouse shall be considered when determining the financial ability to qualify for residency. The community cannot refuse to rent to a disabled individual on the basis the individual is financially dependent on his or her spouse if the spouse is also party to the lease agreement [Civil Code Section 54.1(b)(7)]. Please note, however, that it is not illegal discrimination to deny residency to a disabled individual if they are unmarried and cannot establish financial ability, or if with the aggregate income with a spouse does not meet the community’s financial ability requirement. Other examples of reasonable accommodations Other reasonable accommodations are not as clear, and will be based on the individual facts of the situation.

Following are some examples of reasonable modifications to community policies that have been upheld by the courts:

1. Changing parking policies to accommodate a handicap individual

2. Waiving a first-come-first-serve parking policy to accommodate a disabled resident with multiple sclerosis

3. Reducing or eliminating guest fees for a live-in aide for a disabled resident

4. Waiving or modifying a pet policy to allow an emotionally disabled individual to keep a dog when it has been determined that the dog is therapeutic to his or her disability.

* For specific inquiries regarding a disabled tenant you may have, your welcome to visit my California Manufactured Housing Community and Mobilehome Park Owners legal services page.

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