If you are on the board of a Home Owner's Association, it is your duty to make sure that the rules your association creates, and how they enforce them, are fair and beneficial to the residents of your housing complex. If your rules and regulations have not been updated in awhile, or if you have people with varying levels of ableness living in your complex, it is a good idea to consult an experienced real estate attorney to help you assess the areas where you may be, unknowingly, discriminating against disabled residents.
Not Providing Reasonable Access to Shared Areas
If you have parts of your complex that are open to the general public, such as a pool or recreation facility that can be rented and used by anyone, regardless of whether they are a member of your HOA, then it is important that these areas comply with the ADA regarding their accessibility by all people, regardless of disability. While most people think of improving access to people with motor disabilities, it is also important to consider other types of disabilities, such as vision impairment, when assessing these areas.
If these areas are private, and only accessible by members of the HOA and their guests, you may not be required to make them accessible. However, if the complex consists of condominiums as opposed to separate single-family homes, basic accessibility is required for both private and public areas.
Preventing Construction That Allows Basic Use of Individual Units
Many HOAs restrict additional construction that may modify the exterior appearance of the unit. However, construction that allows a disabled person to utilize their unit efficiently, paid for by the owner, must be allowed. A common example is that HOAs may not deny the construction of a wheelchair ramp. However, other types of construction are also protected. In Tennessee, a family was awarded a settlement because a HOA restricted the construction of a therapeutic sunroom by a family with children who had Down's Syndrome.
Enforcing Rules Against Pets
There are a wide variety of service animals, including guide dogs, signal dogs, psychiatric service dogs, sensory signal dogs, and seizure response dogs. The use of these service animals is protected by the ADA, and these animals are not considered pets. Emotional support and therapy animals are not protected by the ADA, but they may be protected under state and local laws. This means that your HOA needs to be prepared to make exceptions to rules regarding pet ownership in these areas.
Discouraging Purchases By People With Disabilities
While the outright refusal to sell or rent a unit to a person with a disability is obviously not allowed under the ADA, it can be more difficult to tell when you are discouraging the purchase of a unit by someone with a disability. Discouraging a purchase can include telling someone that they will not fit in with the current residents, neglecting to inform them of benefits to the housing complex, and over-emphasizing drawbacks.
Rules Regarding Parking
Reasonable parking accommodations must be made for residents with disabilities. This may mean that you will have to assign or designate a handicap parking space, or you may have to adjust your rules regarding curb-side parking, depending on your complex.
Adjusting the behavior of the governing board of your HOA and your standard rules and regulations to make sure your housing complex is compliant with local, state, and national anit-discrimination laws can save your HOA money and time. A consultation and training with an experienced real estate attorney can help you make sure that you are following all of the applicable laws.
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