45 Years of Impact Spotlight
Ensuring Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications in Housing
In 1988, Congress extended the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) to protect people with disabilities against housing-related discrimination recognizing that “the right to be free of housing discrimination is essential to the goal of independent living.” The FHA broadly prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing and in the terms, conditions, or privileges of housing. Over its history, DRP has fought to enforce all aspects of the FHA and to uphold the rights of people with disabilities to equal housing opportunities.
Under the FHA, tenants with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services. The law also requires housing providers to allow tenants to make reasonable modifications to dwellings and public or common use areas.
In 2004, DRP filed a lawsuit, Biichle v. Tri-Lateral Investment Corp., against the owner of a mobile home park in Lycoming County for violating the FHA by refusing to allow installation of a ramp at the front entrance to a trailer owned by the family of a young man with traumatic brain injury who uses a wheelchair for mobility. The defendant insisted that any wheelchair ramp must be installed at the rear entrance and threatened eviction after the family installed a temporary ramp. After we filed suit and prepared a motion for preliminary injunction, the defendant agreed to allow installation of the ramp at the front entrance.
In 2013, DRP filed, M.S. v. Kreiser, an FHA lawsuit on behalf of Y.S., an 11-year-old Lebanon County boy with autism, and his parents to challenge the refusal of the developer to permit the family to install a chain link fence on their property so that Y.S. can safely play outdoors without running away. Deed restrictions on the property require the developer to approve any fence, but the developer refused to do so. The lawsuit alleged that the developer violated the FHA by refusing to permit the family to make a reasonable modification to their property and by refusing to waive the deed restrictions as a reasonable accommodation. After filing suit, the defendant agreed to allow the family to install a chain link fence in their side yard and to waive the Deed Restrictions as a reasonable accommodation.
Similarly, in 2020, DRP filed N.H. v. Wilkins Township, on behalf of N.H., a young child with autism, and his parents to challenge the township’s refusal to grant a reasonable accommodation to allow the family to erect a 6-foot fence around most of their property. Due to his disabilities, N.H. was unable to play outside of his home without such a fence to prevent him from eloping and endangering himself. The township’s zoning law did not permit fences that exceed four feet in height around the side yard of the family home, which is the largest outdoor space at the home. After DRP filed suit, the township granted the parents’ request for a reasonable accommodation and allowed them to build the fence as requested.