By Maureen Connolly, Esq.

Is it the homeowners association’s job to prove there is no discriminatory intent when its architectural committee denies a request to accommodate a disability?  A recent opinion from the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit applied another rule when a homeowner brought a Fair Housing Act Claim for Reasonable Accommodation.

In Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association, No. 13-6434 (6th Cir. July 29, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court found that for a homeowner to prevail on a Fair Housing Act Claim for Reasonable Accommodation, the homeowner must prove:  1) a disability along with a requested accommodation which was denied; 2) providing the accommodation is not unreasonable for the homeowners association; and 3) the accommodation is necessary to provide equal enjoyment for the homeowner—discriminatory intent was not considered.

The court clarified that discriminatory intent is not considered in an FHA claim for Reasonable Accommodation and that the burden remains with the homeowner to prove the case.  Further, the court suggested that the homeowners association could win by showing that providing the accommodation is unreasonable, or that the homeowner failed to prove any one or more elements of the FHA Reasonable Accommodation claim.

It is important to note that this rule only applies to FHA Reasonable Accommodation claims.  The court considered two other types of claims which a homeowner may make under the FHA, “disparate treatment” claims and “disparate impact” claims.  For disparate treatment claims, the homeowner presents a case for discrimination; the homeowners association produces a non-discriminatory reason for the decision;  and then the homeowner ultimately shows that the non-discriminatory reason is just a cover for the discrimination.  In this type of claim, discriminatory intent is considered.  For disparate impact claims, the homeowner shows that a seemingly neutral policy discriminates; then the homeowners association shows that there is a legitimate business reason for the disputed policy.  In this type of claim, discriminatory intent is not considered.  This case clarifies the rules applied for each of these types of FHA claims.