Accommodating Residents With Severe Allergies

It can be difficult for management to provide reasonable accommodations to residents with allergies.

As many of you have experienced, it appears that the occurrences of residents with severe allergies, asthma, and multiple chemical sensitivity are increasing in the multi-family housing industry. These types of situations can create difficult problems for management attempting to meet the needs of the residents by providing reasonable accommodations while also not limiting the use of chemicals and products by other residents and staff.

As an example, let's review the situation of Mike Jones, a resident of Happy Village. Mike has allergies to fresh paint and he has requested that no new paint be applied anywhere inside his building. The first issue is whether Mike is disabled and therefore entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

The Fair Housing Act defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If Mike's symptoms are minimal, arguably he's not substantially limited by his allergies, and thus not disabled. For most of us with allergies, while the reactions may be uncomfortable, it is probably reasonable to state that those reactions do not rise to the level of a disability. If the allergy is not a disability, then management is not legally required to accommodate Mike. On the other hand, if paint fumes cause Mike's throat to close and hives to break out on his body, these symptoms would probably be considered a fairly substantial limitation on his major life activities. Mike's allergy may or may not rise to the level of disability, and only a third party verifier can determine whether Mike is disabled, and, if so, what accommodations his disability requires to enable him to live in his apartment.

For purposes of our example, let's say that Mike has provided verification from his doctor that his allergy is a disability and he needs to be far away whenever paint is applied and for at least 48 hours afterward. In this example a reasonable accommodation would be to resist painting within Mike's apartment while he lived there, and to provide him notice whenever anyone is planning to paint within his building. Another reasonable accommodation would be to discuss with Mike whether it would be helpful to him for management to perform all painting within the same time period if possible. Mike could choose to remove himself from the building for 48 hours after the notice and the inception of the painting. It is not management's responsibility to pay for alternative housing arrangements if Mike decides to leave the building for a few days whenever painting is planned.

We recently learned of a resident that requested that none of the other residents within his building use any types of chemicals within their own apartments without providing the resident with one hour prior notice. While for persons with multiple chemical sensitivity this may be a preferable situation, it is unlikely that this request would ever be deemed to be reasonable in multifamily housing. In this situation however, while management would be justified in refusing to require such a limitation on the other residents, it would be a reasonable accommodation to send a letter to the other residents requesting that no chemicals be used outside the apartments or in the common areas.


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