On March 5, 2008, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint guidance document clarifying the "reasonable modification" provisions of the Fair Housing Act. Under the Act, all housing providers must allow residents with a disability to make structural changes (at their cost if the property is privately owned) to the property if such changes are needed to enable the resident to fully enjoy the premises. The guidance does not change the law; it simply explains provisions that have been in effect since 1989.
Apartments firms should also note that unlike the Fair Housing Acts design and construction requirements, which apply to most properties built after 1991, generally all apartment properties (regardless of age) must comply with these provisions.
Among other things, the guidance covers: who is eligible to request a modification; what information a housing provider can request before granting a modification request; when a housing provider can deny a request or propose an alternative modification; what modifications residents must pay to undo when they relocate; and when owners can require residents to pre-pay restoration costs.
The guidance also clarifies the difference between a reasonable modification (a structural change made to the premises) and a reasonable accommodation (a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service. It notes that while residents are responsible for the costs of a reasonable modification, property owners are generally responsible for the costs associated with a reasonable accommodation unless it is an undue financial and administrative burden.
NOTE: For purposes of structural changes in housing that receives federal financial assistance, those changes are considered reasonable accommodations and thus must be paid by the housing provider.
A 2004 guidance on the Fair Housing Act's "reasonable accommodation" provisions is posted at www.nmhc.org/goto/3220.