FHA and ADA - What's the Difference? - The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

FHA and ADA – What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between FHA (The Fair Housing Act) and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)? Why is it important to know? Join Jonathan and Kathi as they tackle this sometimes confusing topic.

Man standing and wondering what the difference is between FHA(Fair Housing Act) and ADA(Americans with Disabilities Act)

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

There are many different laws that housing providers need to be aware of in order to maintain compliance. Two of these that are regularly referenced are ADA and FHA. But what is the difference between the two? Does one trump the other? What kind of training is needed? This article will consider these points as well as share examples and tips to help you and your property stay compliant.

What Is the ADA?

There can be a lot of confusion about what the ADA is and how it applies to housing providers. Some of this confusion even comes from residents misquoting or thinking that these laws apply to housing when they do not. 

The ADA is a vast and essential law that protects people with disabilities. The law is divided into five parts:

  1. Employment
  2. Public/Governmental Services
  3. Public Accommodations
  4. Telecommunications
  5. Miscellaneous

The two areas that might impact housing communities are title two or three. If a housing provider is owned and operated by a government entity or a quasi-government entity, then title two or three apply to everything that the housing provider does.

Title three covers the area of housing where the public can visit, like the leasing office or parking lot.

Where Do the FHA and ADA Intersect?

The Fair Housing Act covers everything you say and do, along with how your building and amenities are constructed. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers how your offices are constructed, but it does not cover things like your policies or programs. For example, the FHA will govern your Reasonable Accommodation Policy, not the ADA.

Which Law Takes Precedence

An example of when the two laws might overlap is your leasing office. Both the ADA and FHA cover it. The Fair Housing act follows a standard called ANSI (American National Standards Institute), which guidelines are very similar to the ADA. If there is a variation, both laws state that whichever law provides the most accessibility will trump anything else. 

Another example where many properties get confused about what the ADA applies to is what to name their accessible units. A unit can only be described as an ADA accessible unit in the states that require the ADA to be the standard for the codes that are applied to its construction. There are very few states that do this. 

Likewise, units could only be called Fair Housing Units or ANSI Units if they fall under or follow those requirements. Best practices would be: rather than being that technical over names, it’s better to refer to your units as accessible or fully-accessible.

ADA Dog or Assistance Animal

One prevalent scenario that leasing providers face is when it comes to residents misinterpreting laws regarding their animals. A leasing agent might be challenged when a resident claims that they are not required to fill out a reasonable accommodation form because their dog is covered under the ADA. What should a leasing agent do? 

They need to find a nice way of telling the resident that they have misunderstood which law actually applies. The ADA covers public places and limits what can be asked of the dog’s owner or asked if the dog is a service animal and what service it provides. 

However, it is not the ADA but rather the FHA that applies in this situation as it is in regards to housing. The Fair Housing Act takes precedence here and allows the property to ask for verification of need if it’s not visible.

As this article has highlighted, there are many questions and situations that can arise when considering these two laws and how they apply to housing. Training is critical to rise to these challenges and ensure compliance. Many of our new courses help navigate these advanced fair housing concerns, so please check them out and keep your housing skills sharp.


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