As an expert in D.C. community association management, we understand that not every property owner or co-op may have been exposed to the finer points of the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, understanding this set of laws is key to the operation of your property or properties in the D.C. area.
When a condo within a community association or even a single-family home within an HOA is available to rent, you need to be aware of your responsibilities as a property owner when it comes to making reasonable accommodations for rental applicants with disabilities.
You can turn to trusted resources like EJF Real Estate Services: we've worked within the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act for decades. We also have experience providing community association management services, which gives us unique insight into avoiding discrimination in the D.C. rental market.
Investors in our nation's capital must understand the contexts and nuances of rental law while fostering positive relationships with renters. That effort to form better working relationships begins in earnest through research.
Please note: This post is not a substitute for proper legal counsel and contains current information at the time of its publishing. When in doubt, it's best to reach out to the professionals at EJF Real Estate Services or obtain guidance from a skilled attorney.
Know What You Can Ask—and Say—to Renters With Disabilities
One of the first considerations to make is to realize that even good intentions can break the law. You cannot distinguish between applicants as you try to determine who may or may not have a disability that requires a reasonable accommodation. Picking and choosing whom you ask is discriminatory and ineffective since some disabilities aren't outwardly apparent when speaking with a prospective applicant.
Instead, carefully build inquiries into your entire process, asking every applicant the same questions.
- If you have a rowhome available that is only to be rented to someone with a qualifying condition or mobility concern; you can ask all applicants if they meet the requirements of this unit as defined by the lease.
- However, it is important to note that you cannot 'steer' disabled persons towards a specific rental property. This is a form of unintentional discrimination.
- In most cases, when an applicant is going to seek an accommodation, they will disclose the presence of a disability and the need to start the process of accommodation themselves.
- Don't presume to know what they need by what you see, and address their concerns when they bring them up appropriately.
If you're working with a property manager that has a background in D.C. community association management, they can also be a resource when you aren't sure how to approach these situations for a condo or other community-bound property.
However, an easy rule to live by is to treat all applicants equally before, during, and after a disability is disclosed and accommodation requests are made.
Making Your Properties Reasonably Accommodating
Once you have a rental applicant who has requested an accommodation to make a property more accessible, you begin the process outlined in the Fair Housing Act.
The requests being made for changes to the rental unit must pass two tests:
- First, the changes being requested must be connected to the documented disability
- Second, they must not impose an undue hardship on the property owner.
If an accommodation would require tens of thousands of dollars in modifications to the unit, for instance, it may not meet the 'hardship test.' If the requests cannot be tied to a particular condition or to the accessibility that the potential renter needs, they also may not meet the standard of 'reasonable.'
However, in many cases, not meeting these tests doesn't have to be the end of the application process. If your applicant prefers to apply elsewhere, they can. Still, you can also enter into a dialogue to find an accommodation that more closely connects to their condition or one that will be less difficult to execute as the property owner.
If you find the request has more to do with the building or community your property is located within, then gathering insight from an expert in D.C. community association management services can be an asset to tackle this issue.
So, You Need to Make Accommodations? Here Are Your Next Steps
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has created a process by which you can negotiate with an incoming renter to find a way to make the property both accessible to them and not a burden on you financially.
For instance, a renter who would like you to make some structural changes to make a condo more accessible has the option to make those changes at his or her expense, provided they also put money in escrow to undo the changes at the end of their stay.
Your property manager can help you understand the case-by-case nature of the law. Still, you'll also want to do some research yourself: the more you know, the more creatively and comprehensively you can serve potential residents. You'll also be more likely to avoid discrimination and maximize a good relationship between yourself and your resident.
We Help You Rent Legally and Without Discrimination
Community associations often have limits on how many units will be rented within a particular co-op, or other restrictions that you'll need to understand as an investor when working within the context of the Fair Housing Act.
Working with a property manager who has proven experience in community association management, in particular, ensures you can provide reasonable accommodations within a community structure. Plus, skilled property managers work to protect the owners they serve—even within a compromise.
EJF Real Estate Services understands the D.C. rental market well—and can help you avoid discrimination while also maintaining your property at a very high standard. Our goal as an expert in association management is to uplift an entire community—and help them feel proud of where they live while abiding by the law.
However, not every property manager in the D.C. area can provide such extensive insight and care. How do you know you're working with the best company? Survey your current property management partner—or carefully select a new one with ease—using your free copy of our Guide to Finding the Best Property Management Professional in Washington D.C.!