What HOAs Need to Know About Mental Health

By Gabriella Comstock
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Should an association make accommodations for people with neurological issues like early onset dementia, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum, whether they tell you or the association observes it? What special accommodations or exceptions are available under the Fair Housing Act?

The Code of Federal Regulations defines “handicap” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more daily life activities. Individuals experiencing dementia, mental illness, or who are on the autism spectrum fall under this definition.

Under the Fair Housing Act, an association is required to make reasonable accommodations to afford those with handicaps an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. An accommodation is reasonable if it does not impose an undue hardship and would not undermine the basic purpose the requirement seeks to achieve. Typically, the request for an accommodation is presented to the association by the affected owner. Sometimes, the disability is not obvious, and the association may ask about the disability and request reliable documentation of the need for accommodations from a physician or mental health professional.

If the owner has not requested an accommodation but residents of the association observe behavior that could warrant one, the association walks a fine line between helping the resident and respecting their privacy. While the board may not be obligated to grant an accommodation when none is requested, it is best to treat this person with care to preserve the safety and well-being of all persons and property. That is, instead of focusing solely on imposing monetary fines, the board can encourage the person to meet with its members and take steps to be of assistance rather than act as an obstacle. Acting in a compassionate manner also can protect the association from having a discrimination claim filed against it.

Finally, if the owner in question is demonstrating dangerous behavior that puts them at risk, the association may want to contact local authorities for assistance, who may be able to provide well-being checks.

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Gabriella Comstock

Gabriella Comstock is an attorney with Keough & Moody in Naperville, Ill., and a fellow in CAI's College of Community Association Lawyers.