April 21, 2015

Fair Housing Month Focus on Disability Discrimination

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Photo: FHEO disability PSA. Reasonable accommodations are your right by law.

Edward Tirell and his wife are no different from the average couple raising a child today. They get up early every morning, make sure their 6-year-old son is prepared to go to school, drive him to the bus stop, and then get themselves to work.

But while that daily routine is played out in thousands of households across the country, Mr. Tirell is challenged in ways that most parents aren’t.  He is unable to climb stairs and has difficulty walking more than 50 feet at a time because of a spinal cord injury.

Complicating things further is the fact that the assigned parking space for the Tirell’s Windham, N.H., condominium is more than 200 feet from their unit—and it requires that they navigate a set of stairs to get to it.

Mr. Tirell has never asked for special treatment because of his disability, but he did ask the management company for his condominium association for permission to use the visitor’s parking lot, which is only 75 feet from his family’s front door.

His request was what the federal Fair Housing Act considers to be a reasonable accommodation. Unfortunately, the condominium association refused.  A month later, he made a second request, this time providing medical documentation attesting to his need for the accommodation.  Still, the association denied his request.

Feeling like they had no other options, the Tirells sold the condominium they had called home for more than 13 years.

The Tirells ultimately filed a fair housing complaint, which is currently being litigated.  But the fact that it even came to such a point highlights the challenges persons with disabilities continue to face. In fact, the highest number of fair housing complaints HUD and its fair housing partner agencies receive today allege discrimination based on disability, comprising 53 percent of all complaints.

HUD is aggressively addressing this type of discrimination and has had success in issuing charges and reaching settlement agreements thereby holding housing providers accountable.  HUD has also provided appropriate compensation for victims.  But there is still much work to do.

No person with a disability should have to endure the humiliation of being denied the accommodations needed to perform life’s daily functions.

As America celebrates the 47th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we acknowledge the tremendous challenges that persons with disabilities continue to face in America and recommit ourselves to ensuring that everyone in our society has the benefit of equal treatment.

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against, learn how you can do something about it.

Fair housing is your right: Use it!

Gustavo Velasquez is the Assistant Secretary for the Office Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

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