HOAs are great for ensuring the properties in your community maintain value, for providing residents with shared amenities, and fostering a sense of community among residents. But managing property values requires restrictions on the projects that can be carried out on the aesthetic features of a property—even if those changes are sometimes necessary for the owner to access parts of the association.
If someone is disabled, they are entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under these laws, accommodations that allow the owner to access resources within a place of employment or living space need to be made. These laws also protect individuals against discrimination from housing suppliers. As an established entity and a housing provider, HOAs have to comply with these federal protections, but there are limits to what an HOA has to do in order to be in compliance.
Generally speaking, HOAs need to allow for reasonable accommodation for homeowners who are disabled if they request the accommodation. These requests are often for modifications that would allow an owner who is disabled to change the face of their property to enable them to access their HOA unit, such as a ramp instead of stairs. Such modifications do not need to be made by the HOA itself, as the owner is responsible for paying for the modifications under the FHA. However, the HOA is responsible for allowing exceptions to its CC&R documents and bylaws to allow such a modification to take place. Failing to allow such a revision in policy would likely result in a court battle against the provisions of the FHA.
The FHA is undoubtedly one factor in the accommodations that need to be made for a homeowner who is disabled, but what about the ADA?
The short answer is that the ADA only covers public spaces, and HOAs are typically comprised of private properties, making the application of the ADA to the HOA impossible. But if the HOA shares HOA space with the public—such as renting out the clubhouse to local groups or sharing the swimming pool with the rest of the neighborhood—then the ADA becomes applicable. HOAs are allowed to set expectations for their community. However, once an HOA provides a public accommodation, then the HOA is required to meet the same standards as other public works in order to protect the public from discrimination. Unlike the modifications made under the FHA, ADA modifications would come out of the HOA’s funds.
What happens if the accommodations made under the FHA and ADA are abused? A perfect example of this would be the admittance of pets in an HOA.
If an HOA has a no-pet policy and there is an owner who requires a service dog due to a disability, then the HOA has to comply with the request, because it’s a reasonable accommodation that is protected under the FHA. But the low barrier for such an accommodation makes it more likely for people to make requests for comfort animals, which could turn a no-pet HOA into a community of pet owners in the blink of an eye. The fact that requesting a comfort animal is such a small request makes it exceedingly likely to qualify for classification as a “reasonable request for accommodation,” but it is possible to take legal action to prove that the comfort animal is needed to manage a resident’s disability. After all, an HOA policy is put in place to make a community welcoming to all of its residents, including those who need a comfort animal and those who do not want to live in a pet-filled community.
When making sure that an HOA is disability-friendly, ensure that all federal requirements are met. Once this minimum standard is reached, however, the HOA board is afforded wide latitude in which requests for accommodations it has to honor. In most cases, if the request is reasonable, then providing the accommodations to ensure that there’s a place for all members of the HOA builds a far stronger community in the long-run.