Is It a Disability? Part 5: Allergies - The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

Is It a Disability? Part 5: Allergies

As a property management professional, you will often encounter unique and challenging situations. One such challenge is determining whether allergies can be considered a disability under fair housing laws. In this article, the complex topic of allergies is discussed along with best practices to follow.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Are allergies technically a disability under the Fair Housing Act?

Allergies can indeed be considered a disability if they meet the legal definition of a disability, which means they would need to substantially limit one or more major life activities. However, not all allergies qualify. While some allergies are severe enough to be deemed disabilities, many others do not rise to that level. This distinction is crucial when handling reasonable accommodation requests related to allergies.

To navigate these requests effectively, it’s essential to have a set of prepared and legally approved questions. These questions should help determine whether an allergy is severe enough to be considered a disability. Here are some recommended steps:

  1. Verify the Severity: Ask whether the resident has been tested for specific allergens and identify which allergens are present in your property.
  2. Determine the Impact: Understand how the allergen affects the resident. For instance, does exposure cause minor discomfort, or does it lead to severe reactions like difficulty breathing?
  3. Explore Solutions: Discuss potential accommodations such as changing flooring, transferring the resident to another unit, or other reasonable modifications.

How do you handle allergies and reasonable accommodations?

Let’s discuss a couple of scenarios that highlight handling reasonable accommodations for allergies. A resident had been attempting to break their lease for six months, citing a severe carpet allergy. They presented a doctor’s note to support their request. While it’s possible for a resident to develop allergy symptoms over time, verifying the claim thoroughly is important.

Questions to consider include whether the resident has been tested for carpet-related allergens and what alternatives can be provided, such as changing the flooring or transferring them to another unit. Early lease termination might be a reasonable accommodation in rare cases, but typically, other solutions should be explored first.

Another scenario involves a landlord with a severe cat allergy facing a request from a resident with a service dog and an emotional support cat. The landlord, who handles maintenance for the building, experiences severe allergic reactions to cats. While common sense might suggest denying the request to protect the landlord’s health, caution is advised.

Outright refusal can lead to discrimination claims. Possible solutions include assigning maintenance duties in the affected unit to someone else, such as a contractor or family member. If hiring outside help poses a financial or administrative burden, it could serve as a defense. However, this should be a last resort.

What kind of steps should I take to remain fair housing compliant?

Navigating the complexities of allergy-related accommodation requests requires a balanced approach. It’s important to have a set of approved questions ready to assess the severity of allergy claims, ensure that you have all necessary information before making a decision, consider various accommodation solutions before making a final decision, and consult with your legal or compliance department when in doubt.

By adopting these practices, property management professionals can handle allergy-related accommodation requests effectively, ensuring compliance with fair housing laws while maintaining a supportive living environment for all residents.

Are you not sure how to proceed with your own list of questions for your property? What about handling different reasonable accommodation requests? The Fair Housing Institute offers online, comprehensive articles further discussing the protected class of disability and the unique challenges that allergies present. Articles such as Resident Allergies – Reasonable Accommodation? and Reasonable Accommodations – “I Am Not Filling Out Your Form!” are great follow up material if you still have further questions.

Happy training!

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