A homeowners association (HOA) has a legal responsibility to reasonably modify or improve public or private facilities to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. The extent of this responsibility is spelled out in several laws, including the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), created to safeguard the rights of individuals with disabilities.
Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA)
This law mainly deals with housing facilities as well as HOAs. It requires an HOA to make justifiable accommodations to its policies and practices to enable an owner living with a disabling condition to fully enjoy and utilize his or her house. If the disabled owner needs the help of a service animal, for instance, an HOA will be legally required to hold off its “no pets” policy. Refusing to make such accommodation is considered discrimination according to the FFHA. The act also requires HOAs to allow an owner with a disability to make a reasonable improvement to his or her unit and HOA shared spaces at his or her cost.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA requires all public and government facilities to adhere to clearly defined use and construction codes to accommodate persons with disabilities. The ADA specifically deals with public accommodations. The ADA would, therefore, not apply to HOA unless the HOA is managing what can be deemed a public accommodation. In this case, public accommodations refer to any HOA-operated facility available to the public. HOAs must comply with ADA requirements when:
- It permits the purchase of memberships or access badges to the HOA’s pool by the general public.
- It permits clubs, schools, or church groups to utilize HOA facilities regularly.
- It runs a rental office on a building that members of the public visit frequently.
Any HOA deliberating on or currently permitting the above activities should thoroughly check their facilities to ensure adherence to the ADA requirements. Alternatively, the HOA can stop all such activities. Otherwise, a disabled owner who feels his or her rights have been violated has the option of suing an HOA.
Knowing what the law states about granting individuals with disabilities waivers to HOA rules or policies is important. Each state has some regulations, and any HOA should adhere to them. California, for instance, requires HOAs to make the necessary accommodation in their rules and practices to offer residents with disabilities an opportunity to enjoy and take full advantage of their units. Refusing to do so is an act of discrimination.
A resident with a disability may make improvements to both the exterior and interior elements of a property. California law requires HOAs to allow such a resident to make necessary modifications that will enhance the usability and accessibility of the property at his or her expense. Ramp construction to allow a resident in a wheelchair to easily enter a unit, laundry room, passageways between buildings, lobby, or recreational area is a perfect example of a necessary modification. The HOA can, however, ask the disabled resident to sign an agreement declaring that such modifications would be performed professionally and that necessary building permits will be acquired.