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Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 > Legal Structural Accessibility Requirements > Discrimination in Housing on the Basis of Disability > Handbook: Decent Housing Is a Right

Discrimination in Housing on the Basis of Disability

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, better known as the Federal Fair Housing Act, was amended in October, 1988, to include disabilities as a protected class.

Definition of disability

A physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

"Physical or mental impairment" includes:

Disabled includes but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus infection, mental retardation, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal, use of a controlled substance) and alcoholism.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse an individual with a disability permission to make reasonable modifications to an existing unit, at their own expense, necessary to allow full enjoyment of the unit

It is illegal to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services to allow a disabled person equal opportunity to use a dwelling.

It is illegal to ask whether an applicant has a disability or to ask any questions which attempt to determine the nature or extent of the disability

Design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act

Multi-family housing of four or more units with first occupancy after March 13, 1991, or having its last building permit issued on or after January 13, 1990, must be designed and built to be accessible and adaptable for persons with mobility impairments via pathway to the units, accessible entrance, interior of units, and common areas. This applies regardless of the source of funding, whether financed with private or federal funds.

All units on ground floors must be accessible into and throughout the units. If the building has more than one floor and has an elevator, all units on all floors must be accessible into and throughout the units.

Included in covered dwellings are condominiums, timeshares, and standard apartment units. Excluded are two story townhouses and buildings on terrain that cannot achieve accessibility.

Persons contemplating construction of multi-family units are urged to order and use the Fair Housing Act design manual.

Federally financed housing

Housing that is federally financed is covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in addition to the federal fair housing law.

Section 504 prohibits a recipient of federal funds from providing a qualified individual with disabilities any housing, aid, benefit, or service that is not as effective in affording the individual an equal opportunity to obtain the result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement as that provided to others. Unlike the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 requires the federal recipient to modify a unit to accommodate an individual with disabilities. The modifications are made at the expense of the federal recipient.

In the case of historic preservation programs or activities, a recipient shall give priority to methods that provide physical access to individuals with disabilities, where feasible.

A recipient may be exempt from certain requirements if they can demonstrate that an action would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity or in undue financial or administrative burden. In such case, the recipient shall take any action that would not have the undesired result and would nevertheless ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits and services of the program or activity.

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