In April 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Act was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) disability, and family status. The Act, along with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, is known as the Fair Housing Act. In addition, Colorado has adopted its own fair housing laws, which are extremely similar to the federal laws. April is national fair housing month in celebration of the signing of the Act.
Many aspects of the fair housing laws apply to homeowner associations. Discrimination and a violation of the Act can occur when the homeowner association fails to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled resident. An individual is considered disabled if he has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment or is regarded by the association as having such impairment. A reasonable accommodation is an alteration to the association’s covenants, rules, regulations, policies, and services to provide the person equal use and enjoyment of his home.
For example, an individual may be blind and use a seeing-eye dog to assist him. If a community has a no pet policy, it would be required to accommodate the disabled individual so he can have his seeing-eye dog in the community. The fair housing laws prevent the association from enforcing the no pet policy against this homeowner or resident, and require the association to provide a variance to the disabled individual and accommodate him.
Discrimination can also occur when the homeowner association fails to allow a reasonable modification to the community’s common elements. A reasonable modification is an alteration to the building, common elements or limited common elements to afford the person equal use and enjoyment of his home. For example, a person confined to a wheel chair may request that a lift station be installed in the association’s pool so she can use it for exercise. The fair housing laws require the association to allow the modification to the common elements so the disabled individual can use this facility.
It is highly advisable to consult your attorney when these types of requests are made. Every case is very fact specific and the fair housing laws are filled with pitfalls. An attorney can help you identify the association’s legal obligations and duties in each particular case, and hopefully avoid the filing of a discrimination complaint against the association. In addition, homeowner associations can adopt a policies to address these requests – one for reasonable accommodations and one for reasonable modifications. Each policy provides both parties with a road map for the process and handling of such requests. It establishes the expectations for each party, and channels the necessary dialogue between the parties.