How to Handle Disability-Related Requests for Parking Accommodations
It’s important for a tax credit site manager to be aware of fair housing laws. In addition to legal troubles, violating fair housing laws can jeopardize an owner’s low-income housing credits. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and when a fair housing complaint is filed against your site, HUD or a state or local fair housing agency will investigate the complaint. If these agencies find that your site has violated fair housing law, they will notify your state housing agency and the agency will immediately file a Form 8823, Low-Income Housing Credit Agencies Report of Noncompliance or Building Disposition, with the IRS. When the IRS receives Form 8823, it will send a letter to the owner stating that a finding of discrimination will result in a loss of tax credits.
According to data compiled by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the majority of fair housing complaints involve housing discrimination against people with disabilities. Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when the accommodations may be necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit, including public and common-use areas.
The law’s reasonable accommodation provisions require sites to make exceptions to their general rules for individuals with disabilities when it’s both reasonable and necessary under certain circumstances. A prime example is a request for an exception to parking rules for an individual with a mobility impairment, according to HUD regulations.
Nevertheless, HUD says that the FHA doesn’t require a site to make an exception to parking rules unless there’s an identifiable relationship between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability. And the requested parking accommodation must be more than a mere convenience; it must be necessary to allow the resident to live in and fully enjoy the site. To help you navigate parking accommodation requests from applicants or residents, here are seven rules to follow.
Rule #1: Consider Requests for Special Parking Arrangements Under Reasonable Accommodation Policy
Even if your general policy is to provide unassigned parking on a first-come, first-served basis, you shouldn’t flatly refuse to make an exception if there’s any suggestion that it’s needed because of a disability. Treat any disability-related request for special parking arrangements the same as you would any other request for an exception to your standard policies—all such requests should be handled as requests for reasonable accommodations.
Under the FHA, an applicant makes a request for a reasonable accommodation whenever he makes clear that he is requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service because of a disability, according to the HUD/DOJ Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act (federal guidelines). The FHA doesn’t require that the request be made in a particular manner or at a particular time, so it may come up at the outset of the tenancy—or sometime later.
A person with a disability need not personally make the reasonable accommodation request—it can be made by a family member or someone else working on her behalf. The FHA doesn’t require an applicant or resident to mention fair housing law or to use the words “reasonable accommodation,” so it’s important to pay attention any time someone says she needs or wants an exception to your standard policies—including some special parking arrangements—because of a disability.
If your site doesn’t have one, you should consider adopting a general reasonable accommodation policy that explains the site’s commitment to comply with fair housing law by making adjustments to rules, policies, practices, or services that are necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the site. In addition, the policy may describe the procedures for submitting requests and the steps the site may take to evaluate them.
You may ask the person making the request to submit it in writing or fill out a form, but you can’t require him to do so. You must still consider a reasonable accommodation request even if the resident makes the request verbally or won’t use your preferred forms or procedures for making such requests.
Rule #2: Get the Specifics About Parking Requests
When an applicant or resident asks for a parking space as a reasonable accommodation, don’t automatically assume that you have to create a fully accessible parking space. Among other things, a fully accessible space requires signage, an access aisle of a certain width, sometimes with vertical clearance, and must be located on an accessible route. Because of the access aisle, a fully accessible space is wider than a standard parking space, which would mean you’d lose space in your parking area.
But the resident may not need a fully accessible space, so you have to engage in an “interactive process” to find out what specifically she’s looking for. In most cases, the resident is asking for a reserved parking space because of distance—because she can’t walk more than a certain distance from the parking lot to her home—not because of maneuverability. Most people are satisfied with a parking space reserved for their exclusive use in a particular location, even though it’s a standard parking spot.
Whether it’s okay to simply assign one of the existing accessible spaces, depends on whether your site has enough existing accessible spaces under federal, state, and local requirements. If your site just meets the basic minimum requirements, then the answer is no. Furthermore, you can’t just tell a resident who’s requesting a parking accommodation to use an existing accessible space, because that’s not satisfying her request for an accessible parking spot reserved for her exclusive use. There’s nothing to stop other residents and anyone else from parking there if they have state-issued parking plates or placards issued to drivers with mobility disabilities and entitling them to legally park in spaces reserved for people with disabilities. Even if you create an accessible space, you could face a fair housing complaint if you won’t reserve it for the resident’s exclusive use and she never gets the chance to park there.
Rule #3: Determine Disability-Related Need for Requested Parking Accommodation
When you receive a reasonable accommodation request, keep in mind that there are strict rules about when you can—and can’t—ask for disability-related documentation to support the request. In general, you’re allowed to ask for information that’s needed to evaluate if the parking accommodation may be necessary because of a disability. But you can’t ask for further information if the disability is obvious or otherwise known to you, and if the need for the requested parking accommodation is also readily apparent or known, according to federal guidelines.
Example: An applicant with an obvious mobility impairment who regularly uses a walker to move around asks you to assign her a parking space near the entrance to the building instead of a space located in another part of the parking lot. Since the physical disability—that is, difficulty walking—and the disability-related need for the parking request are both readily apparent, you may not require her to provide any additional information about her disability or her need for the parking space.
On the other hand, you may ask for additional information if either the disability or the need for the requested parking accommodation isn’t obvious or the resident doesn’t have a government-issued parking plate or placards for vehicles that transport drivers or passengers with disabilities. If the disability isn’t obvious, the federal guidelines permit a community to request reliable information to verify that the person’s condition meets the FHA’s definition of “disability.” Depending on the circumstances, the guidelines state that such information may come from the individual himself, a medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.
If the resident or applicant qualifies as an individual with a disability under the FHA, then you may request only the information that’s necessary to evaluate if the parking accommodation is needed because of a disability. Such information must be kept confidential and may not be shared with others unless they need the information to evaluate the reasonable accommodation request.
Rule #4: Grant Reasonable Requests for Disability-Related Parking Accommodations
In general, you should grant reasonable requests from applicants or residents with mobility problems for parking accommodations, such as a designated parking space near a building entrance or a resident’s unit, an accessible parking space, or a space designed for van parking. When there’s a clear relationship between the resident’s disability and the need for the requested parking accommodation, the law requires the site to grant the request unless it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the site or fundamentally alter the nature of the site’s operations.
To prevent others from using the space, you can put up a sign or otherwise marking the space as reserved or permit-parking only, but it shouldn’t identify the resident or his unit number. Be sure to not designate in any way that the reserved space is related to a disability—otherwise, other residents or visitors with disabilities who have government-issued plates or placards may believe they’re allowed to park there.
Rule #5: Get Legal Help If Requested Accommodation Seems Unreasonable
It may not come up often, but you should get legal help if confronted with a request that seems unreasonable. For example, a resident may demand a particular space that’s already been reserved as a disability-related accommodation to a neighbor. Or if your site has limited parking, there may not be space available to grant a resident’s request because all available parking has already been reserved as a reasonable accommodation for other residents with disabilities.
When handling requests like these, you should grant requests in the order received—don’t get into issues about who’s more disabled than someone else. You don’t have to take spaces away from other residents with disabilities who previously received spaces as reasonable accommodations. If all available parking has already been assigned to other residents with disabilities, it may be necessary to start a waiting list for residents requesting parking accommodations. In general, you don’t have to create new spaces by paving over an area to enlarge your existing parking lot.
By the same token, you may get a request for a reserved parking space by a resident who doesn’t drive but wants it for use when someone comes to pick him up or drop him off. In general, you don’t have to grant the request if there’s accessible visitor parking or available space in loading zones for pickup and drop-off.
In most cases, you can’t deny a resident’s disability-related request for a reserved or accessible space because it involves some cost to the site, as long as it wouldn’t impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the site. Providing a parking accommodation could include creating signage, repainting markings, redistributing spaces, or creating curb cuts, and other expenses.
If the requested parking accommodation requires more costly expenditures, then the request may be considered an undue financial and administrative burden, depending on factors such as:
- The cost of the requested accommodation;
- The financial resources of the community;
- The benefits that the accommodation would provide to the resident; and
- The availability of other, less expensive alternative accommodations that would effectively meet the resident’s disability-related needs.
Rule #6: Offer Alternatives to Unreasonable Accommodation Requests
You don’t have to grant an unreasonable parking accommodation request, but that doesn’t mean that you should simply deny any accommodation. You could offer a reasonable alternative that would allow the resident the opportunity to live in and fully enjoy the site. The courts, HUD, and state and local enforcement agencies will look at what you offered if the resident rejects your alternative accommodation and files a fair housing complaint.
When a requested accommodation is unreasonable, federal guidelines say that the site should engage in an “interactive process” with the person making the request to discuss possible alternatives that would meet the resident’s disability-related needs and wouldn’t fundamentally alter the site’s operations or impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the site. If such an alternative exists, then the site must provide it, according to the guidelines.
Rule #7: Learn More About Number of Accessible Spaces Required
How many accessible spaces a site needs to have depends on the date of construction, type of funding, and the state in which the site is located. In addition to other applicable federal, state, and local laws, the FHA requires all new multifamily housing built after 1991 to be accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Among other things, the FHA’s design and construction standards require accessible and usable public and common use areas, including minimal levels for accessible parking for residents and visitors. If parking is provided at the site, the rules call for accessible parking on a route accessible to people in wheelchairs for at least 2 percent of the dwelling units.
If you’re considering whether to assign an existing accessible space to satisfy a resident’s reasonable accommodation request, you shouldn’t do it if your site has only enough accessible spaces to meet minimum requirements under applicable federal, state, and local laws, because doing so would cause the site to fall below required threshold requirements.
Editor’s Note: For more information, you can download our one-hour on-demand webinar, “How to Handle Parking-Related Requests and Disputes,” here: https://www.thehabitatgroup.com/product/demand-webinar-how-handle-parking-related-requests-and-disputes.