MHCO Columns

Legal Case #3: Duty to Make Reasonable Accommodations Doesn’t Require New Service Offerings

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The basic rule is that landlords must make reasonable accommodations to the point of undue hardship. Most resonable accommodations cases were decided on the basis of reasonableness, including an Arizona case posing the question of whether it’s reasonable to expect a landlord to introduce a whole new service or activity for a tenant with disabilities.

Situation: A fair housing organization sues an assisted housing facility that offers elderly residents limited housekeeping and communal dining but no medical services and denying two accommodations to a deaf rental prospect:

  • Providing him with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter; and
  • Installing a strobe doorbell outside his unit.  

You Make the Call: Which, if either refusal, violates the facility’s duty to make reasonable accommodations?

Answer: Only the refusal to provide the doorbell violates the facility’s duty to make reasonable accommodations.

Ruling: The Arizona federal court renders a split decision. It grants the facility summary judgment on the ASL interpreter claim but okays trial on the doorbell claim [Southwest Fair Housing Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53677, 2021 WL 1087200].

Takeaway: Accommodations aren’t reasonable if they require landlords to provide fundamental changes to their services or assume undue financial burdens. The request for an interpreter is unreasonable because it requires the facility to establish a new service it didn’t offer any of its tenants. But the doorbell was relatively cheap to install and required no changes to the facility’s service offerings.