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.

Jonathan (00:12): Hey, hello everyone. Welcome to the 'Fair Housing Insiders'. I'm your host, Jonathan Saar. And joining me today is Kathi Williams. We look forward to another epic show talking about FHA and ADA. So just a couple of housekeeping reminders. We wanna thank you to all those who subscribe to our channel on YouTube. If you haven't done so, please do that. That way, you'll always be notified of new episodes as they come out. And another valuable resource is our newsletter. Please go to our website Fair Housing Institute dot com and you'll see a link there on the menu for the newsletter and sign up for that. We have additional things that we do send out in the newsletter as resources, opportunities, contests, and so on. So please sign up for that. Our main channel from social besides our LinkedIn account is our Instagram account, at Fair Housing Institutes. We welcome you to follow us there for other pieces of micro content related to fair housing and all of the wonderful things that come with that. So without further ado, let's get into our show today, Kathi and I are talking about FHA and the ADA, the Fair Housing Act and the American Disabilities Act, and what's the difference. So Kathi, again, welcome to the show. Would you, can you start out by giving us kind of a synopsis of the ADA and how it relates to property management, please?

Jonathan (01:40): You know, one thing I found when I talked to housing providers around the country is that there is just a lot of confusion about whether one law trumps the other, how they interact. And some of that confusion comes from the residents who go to leasing agents and tell them what they think the ADA is and why it applies to their situation. And then the leasing agents are just not sure. So I think it's good. We're gonna talk about this today so we can clarify, when does the ADA apply? When does the Fair Housing Act apply? So let's begin. What's taught about the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a huge law, very important law that protects people with disabilities. And the law itself is divided up into five parts. And this is important, cause I'm gonna come back to it later as we talk, but the parts of the ADA are number one, employment, number two, public or governmental services.

Jonathan (02:57): Number three, public accommodations, four telecommunications, and five is just a miscellaneous area. The two areas that might impact our housing community are either title two or title three. And I talk about for instance if a housing provider is owned and operated by a government entity or a quasi government entity, then title two will apply to everything that that housing provider does. But it's really limited to things such as housing authority that is viewed as quasi-government city or county housing authority. So there aren't that many of those housing providers around. Most housing providers, the vast majority fall under title three, which covers public accommodations. Now title three does not cover housing. Like the Fair Housing Act does, it covers the area in housing where the public can arrive. And what area is that on your properties? Think about that. It's really very limited and that is gonna be a leasing office and maybe the parking lot right outside that leasing office. So the ADA for most housing providers only applies there and not in your programs, not how your buildings are constructed or your units are constructed. So that is a really important distinction between the two laws.

Jonathan (04:55): Very nice. Thank you for that overview. Appreciate that. And it sounds like you sort of touched on it, but can we just dive in a little bit to, all right, so how does the Fair Housing Act like - Where do they intersect, the Fair Housing Act and the American Disabilities Act?

Jonathan (05:11): Yeah. Okay. So the Fair Housing Act covers everything you do. If you work for an apartment community, theFair Housing Act covers everything you say, everything you do, it covers how your buildings are constructed, how your amenities are constructed. Everything about that housing is going to be covered by the Fair Housing Act. And as I mentioned the ADA is also going to cover how your leasing office is constructed. The ADA doesn't really cover your programs or your policies. For instance, if you have a reasonable accommodation policy or a reasonable modification policy, which you all should, that will be governed by the Fair Housing Act, not the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jonathan (06:17): Okay. Very good. Thank you for that. Nice explanation. A lot of detail there too. So we appreciate all those who are paying attention. Yeah. We thank you for sharing this with your teams and using this as a training tool. So awesome topic. So another question for you, Kathi, is there ever a time when one law kind of like, you know, supersedes another law or whether there's a conflict between FHA and ADA?

Jonathan (06:46): You know that really is not gonna happen because this is kind of how the laws work together. We said that in a leasing office it's gonna be covered by both the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. Both laws say whichever law has the most accessibility that it provides, that law will trump the other law. So usually when we look at the Fair Housing Act that's usually gonna follow a standard and accessibility standar we call ANSI. And ANSI and the Americans with Disabilities guidelines are very similar. And if, and when they vary even a little, you're supposed to go with the law that provides the most accessibility, which is usually viewed as the strictest law. So the law kind of covers that in and of itself. Another area that I find leasing agents get very confused about is how to describe their accessible units.

Jonathan (08:09): Almost all properties have units that are viewed as fully accessible. And a lot of housing providers describe those as ADA units. That, for most communities, is not correct because the ADA is only gonna have something to do with how the unit, the individual accessible unit is built in states that require the ADA to be the accessibility standard for the codes that are applied to housing. There are a few states that use the ADA, not very many. So instead of ever talking about an ADA unit, it really is much more correct to just call it a fully accessible or just even accessible unit. That way you don't have to go figure out whether this really is an ADA unit, which is not gonna happen very often. Or as I mentioned earlier, what we call an ANSI unit or there's another definition, which is a unit that is accessible under the Fair Housing Act, but not necessarily fully accessible. And that would maybe be called a fFair Housing Act accessible unit instead, rather than being that technical and applying certain laws, let's just call all those units accessible units. And when you describe them to residents, you should know the main features that they provide in the way they were designed. So I would be much happier if we would stop using the term ADA unit and just call 'em accessible.

Jonathan (09:59): Yeah, that's a nice tip. Very, very, very good. I'm sure it's gonna prompt a lot of questions from our community too. So as a reminder to all of our viewers, if you do have questions about this topic, please respond in our YouTube channel. We will have episodes in the future that are very specific to your questions. So just as a reminder, please share your questions. We would love to be able to go through those and answer them in a future in a future show. Thank you very much, Kathi. Okay. So let's take a look at a scenario now, and this will help our audience have a little bit of a visual on everything that you just referenced, and then we'll get your comments and feedback on the scenario.

Resident (10:41): Hey Taylor, I have an ADA dog, so I'm assuming you're not gonna give me a problem with bringing Tiny with me when I move into happy village.

Taylor (10:49): I know we accept service animals. Is that what Tiny is? If so, we'll need you to fill out our reasonable accommodations forms.

Resident (10:57): Look, I know you can't ask questions about Tiny once I tell you he's my ADA dog. I read that on the internet. So I don't know why you'd ask me to fill out your forms.

Jonathan (11:06): Jonathan, this is one of those areas that I have seen confuse leasing agents many, many times. And that is when a resident like Bob comes up to Taylor and says, Hey, I have this ADA dog and you can't ask me questions. You can't give me verification forms. You just have to accept it because I read that on the internet. It happens all the time. So what should Taylor say in that situation? Taylor should nicely inform Bob that he has misunderstood the law that applies because in housing it is not the ADA, but the Fair Housing Act that applies and the Fair Housing Act permits housing providers to ask for verification of the disability status of the need for the dog if it's not observable, as we've talked about out in many of our videos and newsletters and things like that. So in the appropriate circumstance, housing providers absolutely can follow their reasonable accommodation process.

Jonathan (12:25): And you have to find a way of nicely informing your resident that they are incorrect, that they misunderstood what law applies, and then go forward with your Fair Housing Act procedures under your reasonable accommodation policy, and make sure that you never refer to an assistance animal as an ADA dog or ADA animal. It's always the appropriate term is assistance animal. And except for housing authorities, you're never gonna have to worry about what the ADA says is appropriate when an owner of a public accommodation, such as a theater, a restaurant, a school in your leasing office, we said that was an area public accommodation in that area. Owners of businesses are limited to only asking, is that a service dog? Because it can only be service dogs under the ADA. And what service was that dog trained to provide? So there are a lot of limitations under the ADA, but that doesn't apply to your housing. The Fair Housing Act does. So you move forward with all the procedures that you have and you'll be fine.

Jonathan (14:01): Right. Right. Very good. So this scenario really lends itself to other things that we've talked about when it comes to the amount of training that you need in order to understand the differences and be well informed and be able to be able to make that kind of response. So, you know, for our viewers, just as a reminder, we have new courses on those topics. So be sure to check those out at Fair Housing Institute dot com, but nice explanation Kathi, and really it puts it into the driver's seat of that leasing agent. If she or he is well aware of what the situation is and can respond appropriately, then that's gonna make that turn out quite well. Okay. So that brings us to one of our favorite parts of the show. And that's our Fair Housing Fast Five. So, Kathi, I know this is one of your favorite parts of the show. Are you ready for the Fast Five questions?

Jonathan (15:07): But you know, I haven't made it yet in the 60 seconds, but I'm determined to keep trying, so take it away and I'll see what we can do.

Jonathan (15:16): Yeah, no, you do great. It's it's this is a lot of fun, especially with, with fair housing. Oh, it's hard to even get the questions out in 60 seconds sometimes, but I think these questions a little bit shorter, so we'll give it a whirl. All right, here we go. Our Fair Housing Fast Five, first question and the stopwatch is on. Of the two laws, FHA and ADA, which is the more important law for housing providers to know?

Jonathan (15:45): Absolutely, it's the Fair Housing Act. That's much more important.

Jonathan (15:53): Are market rate properties covered by the ADA?

Jonathan (15:57): They are, but only in a very limited way, such as in their leasing office construction, that's about it.

Jonathan (16:07): Okay. How should housing providers describe a properties' accessible apartments?

Jonathan (16:14): Just like that. They should not attach it to a law. They should just call it accessible or fully accessible. And then explain what that means.

Jonathan (16:27): Are any housing providers covered in all their activities by the ADA?

Jonathan (16:31): The only housing providers that are those that are owned by a city or state, such as a housing authority. Other than that it is the Fair Housing Act that housing providers should be much more aware of.

Jonathan (16:49): Are ADA dogs something a leasing agent should be concerned about?

Jonathan (16:54): Absolutely not. And they shouldn't let a resident talk them into it. ADA dogs don't apply to housing. They apply to public accommodation businesses.

Jonathan (17:07): Very good. Well-

Kathi (17:08): How'd we do?

Jonathan (17:11): One minute, 31 seconds.

Kathi (17:13): Oh my gosh. I'm getting slower instead of faster, Jonathan.

Jonathan (17:19): Well, those are some meaty things. And I think everyone really appreciates the, you know, the - I love these questions. I think it's just, these are the typical ones we hear, but again, for our audience, if you have other questions, please respond in our YouTube. We have a lot of people commenting there. And we thank you for those comments. We appreciate your support of the community. And Kathi, thank you again for being on the show today and offering your insight and years of experience and really helping us understand the relationship and the difference between the Fair Housing Act and the American Disabilities Act. So for all of our community, please share this episode with your network. We thank you to those who are using this for training purposes. Please give us a thumbs up on YouTube and we would love your feedback. So if you have any other questions or anything, please reach out to us. Until next time, thank you for joining us on the 'Fair Housing Insiders'. Take care, everyone.

You May Also Like:

The Fair Housing Institute

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.