Our office recently handled a case that presented a rather unique issue. A disabled owner of a condominium unit challenged our refusal to approve her request for a prolonged repayment term for being discriminatory against her. Ultimately the Florida Commission on Human Relations found no cause to prosecute our client, but keep reading to find out what lessons can be learned from this ordeal.

You know to proceed with collections against all owners in a uniform manner, lest you be accused of selective enforcement. However, do you risk running afoul of anti-discrimination laws if you try and collect from owners who have a diagnosed disability? In a recent case in which our attorneys successfully defended a condominium association, the Florida Commission on Human Relations seems to leave the door open to the possibility of finding discrimination in limited circumstances.

This particular owner was diagnosed with a mental disability and a protected person under the Fair Housing Act, which protects from unlawful discrimination by virtue of that disability. She alleged that she made a request for a reasonable accommodation to repay the special assessments levied on her unit over a prolonged period. She further alleged that our office failed to respond to her and that the management company retaliated against her by proceeding with their standard collections process.

In reality, upon receipt of her request for an accommodation based on her disability, we asked that she provide information on how her disability is related to the restructuring of payments, which she refused to provide. Further, the management company had moved forward with their collections efforts well before the owner made any requests related to her disability.

“She alleged that she made a request for a reasonable accommodation to repay the special assessments levied on her unit over a prolonged period.”

In reality, upon receipt of her request for an accommodation based on her disability, we asked that she provide information on how her disability is related to the restructuring of payments, which she refused to provide. Further, the management company had moved forward with their collections efforts well before the owner made any requests related to her disability.

The FCHR found no reasonable cause to find that the condominium or its management company engaged in any discriminatory practices. In their final decision letter, the FCHR explains that the owner had to prove the following elements:

  1. The existence of a physical or mental impairment that qualifies her as a disabled person and that the condominium was aware or such disability;
  2. A request that the condominium make reasonable accommodations to its rules, policies, practices, procedures or services;
  3. That the requested accommodation be necessary to give the owner an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the premises, and that the condominium knew that the accommodation was necessary;
  4. That the condominium denied or reasonably delayed the request.

While the first two elements were indisputably established, the owner had difficulty proving the third and fourth elements.

She could not prove the third element because she did not live in the unit. She further did not respond to our request that she show how the accommodation was related to the disability. According to the FCHR, she “failed to provide any documentation to verify the nexus between [her] disability and the requested accommodation.” As she could not prove the third element, the fourth one likewise could not be established.

Based on this experience, if an owner requests an accommodation due to a disability, your association may request that they establish some connection between the disability and the accommodation requested. If it is established, and the accommodation request is reasonable, then the association cannot deny or unreasonably delay the request. Be mindful if you’re accused of discrimination  or retaliation, and if you are, then please contact us for legal advice.

 

 

 

Are Your Collections Efforts Violations of the Florida Fair Housing Act?

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