Don’t Put Condition on Reasonable Accommodation Request Approval

December 19, 2013
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When a homeowner in your community makes a reasonable request for accommodation in order to modify their property, consider very carefully how you’ll handle your approval or denial of the request. In a recent Alabama case, a trial court determined that an association’s “conditioned approval” of a disabled owner’s new garage was actually a constructive denial of his reasonable request for an accommodation. 

In that case, a disabled homeowner in a planned community modified his car to transport his new wheelchair. Because of the modification, the car no longer fit in the owner’s garage. He asked the architectural review board to approve plans for a larger detached garage that he wanted to build on his property. The board denied the request. The owner resubmitted the request, making it clear that he was asking for a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. The board conditionally approved the request as a needed and reasonable accommodation under the FHA, but it required the owner to bring the property into compliance when and if he sold his home. The owner rejected the proposal and sued the association for discrimination. The association asked the trial court to dismiss the owner’s claim. It contended that because it had ultimately approved the request, it had not discriminated against the owner.

An Alabama trial court denied the association’s request. It said that, to prove that the association had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation under the FHA the owner had to establish that: (1) he is disabled or handicapped within the meaning of the FHA; (2) he requested a reasonable accommodation; (3) the accommodation was necessary to afford him an opportunity to “use and enjoy his dwelling”; and (4) the association refused to make the requested accommodation.

The trial court determined that the owner met these requirements. First, he was a paraplegic. Second, his request for approval of his garage plans contained explicit language that the application was a request for a reasonable accommodation from the association’s covenants. Third, a sheltered parking area for the modified vehicle would prevent weather damage, property theft, and other risks that might stop him from being able to transport his wheelchair, thereby making it difficult for him to live in the community. Finally, the association’s initial denial was a violation of the FHA and its conditioned approval was a “constructive denial” because it would cause the owner to incur demolition costs that other nondisabled owners wouldn’t. The trial court allowed the case to proceed to trial [Moates v. Plantation Oaks Homeowners’ Association, Oct. 2013].

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