What You Should Know About the Fair Housing Act
Those of you who are landlords are probably familiar with the Fair Housing Act. It is the law that makes it illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin sex, familial status or disability.
What you might not know is that alcoholism, drug addiction and hoarding can be classified as disabilities.
A tenant may request that the landlord make reasonable accommodations for a tenant with disabilities. A “reasonable accommodation” is defined as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling….”
Tenants need to show that an accommodation, or change, is necessary so they have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the property. The landlord need not make costly or burdensome changes. However, reasonable accommodations are made at the landlord's expense. A landlord cannot require the tenant to pay for the changes.
A landlord who refused to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling would violate the Act.
For example, if your rules prohibit over six guests on-site after eight p.m. and a tenant hosts AA meetings and they extend past eight p.m., you might have to allow the meetings, assuming they do not violate other health and safety rules such as fire codes.
Maybe a hoarder is a tenant. If the hoarding does not create a health risk or a safety risk to other tenants or to your property, you will likely need to allow the tenant to hoard. That does not mean that if the premises become a breeding ground for rodents or other pests, which are a health threat to other tenants, that you have no recourse.
It does mean you should carefully document any action you take to require the tenant to modify his behavior. For instance, if you ask the tenant to clean up the premises because of a rodent issue, document that you have taken this action. If, after multiple attempts to get the tenant to stop creating a breeding ground for rodents, the tenant refuses, then you can protect your property and other tenants.
While drug addicts may be a protected class, that does not mean you must allow your property to be used to house or distribute controlled substances. It may mean that if you have a tenant addicted to prescription medications, you may need to be more lenient than normal if the tenant does not abide by rules you have promulgated.
The bottom line is there are actions you can take, but be thoughtful and deliberate when you take those actions and you should document everything you do. If a protected class is involved you may not be as forceful when acting.