What To Do With Competing Accommodation Requests

Accommodation requests can be a challenge on any given day. But what happens when you have two competing requests? How should these be handled to ensure fair housing compliance?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A woman questioning how to handle competing accommodation requests.

Let’s face it, accommodation requests come in all shapes and sizes and are part of the everyday inner workings of leasing offices. Some can be quite straightforward, while others can prove to throw up otherwise unseen hurdles. In this article, we will discuss some examples of competing accommodation requests and the best practices that need to be followed to avoid a fair housing complaint.

Back to Basics – What Is an Accommodation Request/Competing Request?

An accommodation request is when an applicant or resident has a disability that requires an accommodation or exception to a property’s usual rules and policies. Accommodation requests are there to remove barriers that might affect a resident’s ability to live comfortably.

A competing accommodation request is when you have one or more applicants that require accommodations, but the accommodations requested could pose a conflict between the two applicants. For example, resident A is requesting accommodation for their assistance animal, but their next-door neighbor, resident B, is also requesting accommodation due to their allergies. You can see how this could create a conflict as all types of properties, regardless of funding, are required to evaluate both accommodation requests.

Best Practices for Handling Competing Accommodation Requests

The first step is to realize that there are no easy answers here, and you must proceed with utmost caution and keep the lines of communication open with all parties involved. Remember that management never decides if one person’s disability is more severe than the others.

You must follow the same standard process of identifying and verifying each individual’s needs. Have each party fill out your accommodation request form and provide verification from a medical professional. Once all the documentation is in order, you can review it and discuss options with each applicant individually. One main reason for following these steps is that an answer may present itself once all the facts are laid out. For example, resident A’s assistance animal is a cat, and according to resident B’s physician, they are allergic to dogs, not cats. Problem solved. But what if resident B is allergic to cats? What then?

There are multiple options, such as a unit transfer or increased unit filtration. Whatever remedies you propose, be sure that your residents feel heard and that their needs are not being considered less than anyone else’s. This could lead to disability harassment between the two applicants, which is the last thing you want. By taking steps to communicate effectively and hopefully find a solution that fits everyone’s needs, you can ensure that everyone has access to a comfortable living environment.

Competing Accommodation Requests – Final Takeaway

There are two main points that need to be remembered when working through potentially difficult situations like this. First, under no circumstances should a property feel they need to decide whether one applicant’s disability is worse than another’s. Secondly, open communication with all parties involved to work through the identification, verification, and resolution process is critical to ensure that everyone feels heard and accommodated.

Of course, despite your best efforts, you may still have a tenuous situation. Still, if your staff has had access to quality training and document that they have followed all required steps, you have a great foundation of facts to rely upon if a charge of discrimination is levied.

Jonathan (00:12): Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 55 of the Fair Housing Insiders. And I'm your host, Jonathan Saar and joining me today is Kathi Williams. And we are looking forward to talking about competing accommodation requests. Very interesting topic. We're gonna look at some examples and then how to deal with those. So just a couple of housekeeping items. Remember to keep your questions coming in. We love your community questions and we tabulate them and have every quarter and a special episode just to answer those community questions and you could win have a chance to win on Amazon gift card. So keep those questions coming in, sign up for our newsletters. So you don't miss out on anything from the Fair Housing Institute. So our Fair Housing Focus for today, Kathi is competing accommodation requests. So can you start us off by what is an accommodation request?

Kathi (01:11): Sure. as most of us know when a resident or applicant has a disability, they have the opportunity to ask for an accommodation, which is an exception to the usual rule that you have, or the policy that you usually follow. If the disability of that resident causes a problem for them. And that if you make an exception, they'll be more easily, more comfortably able to live in your apartment community. So that's what a reasonable accommodation is. And when we talk about competing accommodations the reality is that you could have several residents let's say on the same floor of an apartment, building all with disabilities. And once in a while, those disabilities might come compete for whose accommodation gets granted, who gets ignored or who has to give up their accommodation request so that someone else's accommodation request can get granted. That's the issue that occasionally comes up when we're talking about dealing with reasonable accommodation request.

Jonathan (02:45): Got it. That's that's excellent. Thank you so much. So just so our audience can make sure they can get a nice visual. Can you give us an example of two accommodation requests that that could compete with each other?

Kathi (02:59): Maybe the most common are requests involving assistance animals mm-hmm . So I live in one apartment and I ask for permission to keep my cat who provides me emotional support. So I ask for that and maybe next door, my neighbor has severe allergies to cats that cause serious reaction hides and breathing problems and all of that. So in that case, if my neighbor finds out that I am asking for permission to have a cat, the neighbor is gonna say, absolutely no, that cat dander is gonna get in the heating system and the air conditioning system. It's gonna find its way into my apartment and it's going to make me sick. Right. I remember having a, a issue with one of my clients who had a given permission for a resident to have an emotional support cat. And don't, you know, that one day she opens up her door about the time her neighbor did, who had a severe allergy. And of course the cat ran right into her neighbor's apartment. So the neighbor ran out of her apartment because she wasn't about to try to catch that cat. So that's the kind of issue that can come up. And so it makes you think if I grant an accommodation to one person, then I can't grant it to another.

Jonathan (04:45): Wow. Yeah. That's an amazing scenario. Appreciate that example. So let's, let's take it to another level with the different sectors that we have in, in our industry. So, do you find that there are certain sectors where this particular scenario is more common?

Kathi (05:08): You know, in my experience I've seen it happen in all sectors. I've seen it happen in senior properties. I've seen it happen in family properties. So I, I think this is something that is maybe shared in all types of housing sectors as an issue that management may have to address when granting reasonable accommodation requests.

Jonathan (05:38): Got it, got it. So everybody listening, you're not exempt, so we need to pay attention to this show for sure. Okay. So how should you handle competing requests? What would be your thoughts on that, Kathy?

Kathi (05:52): Okay. This is not an easy, you know problem to solve and I'm not gonna pretend that it is. What I want you to be aware of is management is never in the position of deciding one person's disability is more worthy than another person's right? So you never wanna let yourself get into that position. You need to follow your process for, for instance, if we're talking about the neighbors and the request for the ESA and the issue with the allergies, you have both neighbors go through the process of explaining what they want as a reasonable accommodation, and then explain the reason and verifying it. For instance, what I find is that housing providers will definitely verify the need for an emotional support animal, but when the neighbor says they're allergic, they won't even verify that they just accept that. And I think it's important to get your facts straight.

Is it that they're allergic to all animals or just cats or just dogs and how do they know and how do they react? You know, having sneezing, you know, kind of, you know, kind of a reaction might be much different than someone who has a life threatening reaction. So you have to begin with getting all the facts and getting them verified by a medical professional who can speak to whatever the need, whatever the disability related need is. And then when you get the facts, then you meet with both residents separately to discuss the situation and how it can be best resolved to everyone's satisfaction that might involve transfers, offers of transfers. Now they don't have to transfer obviously, but you can certainly make that offer. And then if they turn it down, that's fine too. And, and also coming up with a way that, for instance, both people are not on the elevator at the same time and that they take and make an effort to stay separate from each other, especially if the animal is with the resident at the time in the hallway, on the stairway, wherever. So it's one of those things you just have to work out through negotiation, through discussion with each of the involved residents.

Jonathan (08:52): Very good. Thank you so much. All right. So what is the takeaway that you would want everyone to remember coming, coming out of this nice summary you've given us and some example, like what, what do we walk away with from this show today?

Kathi (09:08): Okay. Couple of things. One is do not put yourself in the position of thinking one disability is more worthy of a reasonable accommodation than another. Yeah. All disabilities should be viewed equal when it comes to what management does to provide a disability related benefit. So that's one thing. And the other thing is to work very hard, to get both residents, to realize they need to cooperate with the process so that both residents can have their reasonable accommodation requests be granted and to avoid what could turn into a situation of disability harassment. If the resident who feels like their rights are being somehow interfered with by this other resident because of their, it easily can get into a situation of resentment of hostility. And that can turn into disability harassment, which is an illegal act in and of itself that then management has to deal with. So you want to avoid that by trying to get everyone to respect and appreciate each other's needs and then work cooperatively to find the best resolution to how everyone can live together in that building.

Jonathan (10:44): Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Thank you so much. Excellent takeaway. And I know our community really, really appreciates it. Appreciates that, Kathy. Thank you so much. Okay. Well, we come to the end of another amazing fair housing insiders episode. So as we announced in our last episode, we have adjusted the fair housing five to give you now our wonderful guest 90 seconds. What do you think about that, Kathy?

Kathi (11:15): I think I'm gonna be able to handle it this time in the past. I haven't been able to handle the 60 minutes, but I mean 60 seconds, I think I can do 90, I think.

Jonathan (11:23): 90 seconds. Okay. All right. Well, we'll see. We'll see how it goes. All right. Are you ready?

Kathi (11:28): I'm ready.

Jonathan (11:29): Okay. Should accommodation requests by residents with physical disabilities, be given priority over a request over requests by residents with mental disabilities?

Kathi (11:41): Absolutely not. All disabilities should be viewed on an equal plane.

Jonathan (11:48): Should accommodation requests by residents with more serious disabilities, be given priority over residents with less serious disabilities?

Kathi (11:58): Again, while that is very tempting. If you have a resident that uses a wheelchair versus a resident who doesn't show any kind of need for an assisted device, it's easy to think the person who needs the wheelchair, his or her rights should be upheld more than someone with a less obvious disability. And again, don't ever put yourself in the position of judging one disability more worthy than another.

Jonathan (12:33): Very good. All right. If a resident makes it known that they are allergic to an animals, should both pets and assistance animals be prohibited from living in the apartments, close to the resident with allergies?

Kathi (12:45): And the answer to that is you probably could say no to a pet in the next door unit. To someone who has an allergy. You can never say no to an assistance animal though. As long as they follow your procedure and show that they need one. So in the, in the case of one resident with a disability who has an allergy, you cannot say no to an assistance animal in the next department

Jonathan (13:16): Should a property manager attempt to get residents together, to resolve a problem with a resident's request for an assistance animal.

Kathi (13:25): If I, I think it should be dealt with separately by management with each resident very carefully. And if after you do that, you think it might be helpful to bring them together then yes, that's fine. But I would never start out in that posture by having them together

Jonathan (13:46): Should a housing provider, excuse a resident with allergies who harasses another resident with an assistance animal?

Kathi (13:54): And the answer to that is no, there is no way to excuse disability related harassment and therefore, even the person has allergies are gonna be held liable if they violate the law by committing disability harassment.

Jonathan (14:16): Okay. Thank you, Kathy.

Kathi (14:18): Did I make it?

Jonathan (14:21): No.

Kathi (14:23): Even 90 seconds and I still didn't make it.

Jonathan (14:26): Do you wanna know what the time was or do you want me to just hold that?

Kathi (14:29): No, go ahead.

Jonathan (14:31): Okay. Yeah. Two minutes and 45 seconds.

Kathi (14:33): Oh my gosh,

Jonathan (14:34): So close.

Kathi (14:35): Oh my gosh. I'm never gonna win that gazillion dollars.

Jonathan (14:39): darn it. But again, I love the, I love the questions. I love the specific items because it just, it really helps our audience. So thank you for the, for your response to those questions and the way that you did it, because you know, these, these are really, really important. It's a very important topic too. So we always appreciate having you on the show. So thank you for your time today. All right, everyone. That concludes episode 55 of the Fair Housing Insiders. So if you love this episode, please give us the thumbs up on YouTube. Make sure you subscribe to our show, share it with your network. Use it for training purposes. We appreciate you. You are awesome. Thank you for turning in today. We'll see you next time on our next episode. Take care, everyone.

Kathi (15:25): Bye!

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