Mishandling Requests for Ground-Floor Units Can Be a Double-Whammy

Mishandling Requests for Ground-Floor Units Can Be a Double-Whammy

Residents and applicants at your tax credit site may sometimes request ground-floor units because of a disability. Because you have only a limited number of ground-floor units, these requests for reasonable accommodations can be problematic. But mishandling requests for ground-floor units from persons with disabilities can hurt you and the owner in two ways. It can threaten the owner’s tax credits and get you sued for discrimination. Here’s how.

IRS Form 8823, Low-Income Housing Credit Agencies Report of Noncompliance, specifically says that disability discrimination “will result in the denial of the low-income housing tax credit on a per-unit basis.” That can mean tens of thousands of dollars out of the owner’s pocket.

Mishandling a request for a reasonable accommodation will also almost certainly lead to an expensive lawsuit, as one Illinois owner and manager learned. Several months after moving into a third-floor unit, a low-income resident developed degenerative arthritis. Her condition forced her to use a wheelchair. She asked management several times for a transfer to a vacant ground-floor unit, but management refused her request. The resident sued for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Management said her request was unreasonable and asked the court to dismiss the case. But the court ruled for the resident and ordered a trial to determine whether management should have granted the resident’s request. The case was settled before trial for a substantial sum [Roseborough v. Cottonwood Apts.].

By taking three simple steps, you can avoid discrimination problems like this from happening.

  • Step 1: Don’t brush reasonable accommodation requests aside, but evaluate them in light of federal fair housing law.
  • Step 2: Because a ground-floor unit request must be based on need, ask the individual to provide you with written verification from her healthcare provider.
  • Step 3: If you can’t arrange a unit transfer to make a ground a ground-floor unit available, set up a waiting list for ground-floor units and sent a letter to the qualified household letting it know that you intend to accommodate the request as soon as an appropriate-size unit becomes available.