Tuesday, June 02, 2009

housing - reasonable accommodation - duty of HA in inquire - continuing duty of court to accept evidence

Lebanon County Housing Authority v. Landeck - Superior Court - February 27, 2009


A court must consider evidence of a tenant's handicap up until time of trial. The common pleas court impropetly refused to accept evidence of the tenant's disability that was offered after the MDJ hearing. Tenant offered some evidence there and tried to offer more after the MDJ judgment. The tenant made clear consistent requests for accommodation, relating to mental problems which caused housekeeping concerns.

“It shall be unlawful to . . .discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of . . . that buyer or renter.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1)(A).

“To establish a reasonable accommodation defense under the Fair Housing Act, the tenant must demonstrate that (1) she suffered from a ‘handicap’[4] (or ‘disability’), (2) the landlord knew or should have known of the disability, (3) an accommodation of the disability may be necessary to afford the tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her apartment, (4) the tenant requested a reasonable accommodation, and (5) the landlord refused to grant a reasonable accommodation.” Douglas v. Kriegsfeld Corporation, 884 A.2d 1109, 1129 (D.C. 2005)

If, as the Authority asserts, it was unclear about what accommodation was being requested, the HA had a duty to “promptly respond” to the Tenant’s request. Douglas, 884 A.2d at 1122. The Douglas court explains: If the request is not sufficiently detailed to reveal the nature of that request, the Act-as properly interpreted-requires the landlord to ‘open a dialogue’ with the tenant, eliciting more information as needed, to determine what specifics the tenant has in mind and whether such accommodation would, in fact, be reasonable under the circumstances.

Tenant has established that she suffered from depression which is a “handicap” under the Fair Housing Act; that the Authority should have known of the handicap; that she requested a reasonable accommodation; and that the Authority refused to make the accommodation. To prevail under the Act, however, Tenant was also required to prove she was unable to maintain her unit as required by the terms of the lease because of her disability. The trial court erroneously prevented Tenant from presenting evidence in support of this final prong of her defense when it refused to consider evidence beyond a certian date or permit witnesses to testify.

The court remanded the case to the trial court for a new non-jury trial to permit tenant to present evidence in support of her assertion she was unable to satisfy the terms of the lease because of her handicap. If she proves her handicap caused the breach of the lease the Authority must produce rebuttal evidence that the requested accommodation was unreasonable before an eviction may be ordered.