Housing Authorities, Section 8 Vouchers, & Housing Discrimination Based on Disability - Your Rights and Options

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Housing Authorities, Section 8 Vouchers, & Housing Discrimination Based on Disability - Your Rights and Options

This fact sheet discusses the rights of people with disabilities to be free from disability-based discrimination by government agencies and certain businesses. The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide Housing Authority-specific information and examples. For more general information on Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications see our publication “Housing Discrimination Based on Disability - Your Rights and Options.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Discrimination by government agencies and certain businesses against persons who have disabilities is illegal. This includes discrimination by Public Housing Authorities who administer/manage housing programs, such as Public Housing and Section 8 Vouchers. Different acts or failures to act can be considered discrimination. Some examples of what disability discrimination looks like can be:

  • A Housing Authority treating someone differently or refusing to work with someone because of their disability. An example could be an employee of the House Authority turning a person away because they need an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to communicate, and the employee does not attempt to get one.[JC1]
  • Physical barriers that block or hinder access
  • Harassment
  • Retaliation
  • Discriminatory statements
  • Failure to provide needed exceptions or changes (“reasonable accommodations and modifications”).

Difference Between Reasonable Accommodations and Reasonable Modifications

Reasonable accommodations (“RA”) are exceptions to rules, procedures, services, or policies. Reasonable modifications (“RM”) are physical changes to buildings, units, or grounds. Accommodations and modifications are considered reasonable if they:

  1. Are necessary to provide someone with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing;
  2. Do not fundamentally alter the nature of the housing or other services provided; or
  3. Do not impose an undue burden on the housing provider; or
  4. Do not constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of others or would not cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.

After the requestor establishes that the accommodation and/or modification is necessary (#1 above), the housing provider receiving the request can only legally deny the request because of #2, 3, or 4 above.

For further information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), a federal agency authorized to enforce federal fair housing laws, see: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/reasonable_accommodations_and_modifications

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation Requests

Housing Authorities must provide reasonable accommodations when necessary to provide someone with a disability equal access to any of the programs they administer, including the Section 8 programs. The specific accommodation may be different depending on the person and the situation, and there is room for creativity. These examples are meant to illustrate some possibilities:

  • Higher Payment Standards – Payment standards are the most a Housing Authority can pay to help a household with rent. A Housing Authority will set payment standards for each unit size. A Housing Authority can approve a higher payment standard as a reasonable accommodation, but only up to a certain amount. The Housing Authority’s Administrative Plan should have detailed information about this. A Housing Authority may set a payment standards higher for an individual household as a reasonable accommodation, but they may need to ask HUD to approve it beforehand.
  • Higher Subsidy Standards and Live-in Aides – A subsidy standard determines the necessary number of bedrooms for households of different sizes. A Housing Authority must approve a higher subsidy standard as a reasonable accommodation if the requestor establishes that it is necessary and reasonable unless the Housing Authority has a legal reason to deny (see section above on Difference between RA and RM). This could be to accommodate a live-in aide, to provide extra room for necessary medical equipment, or for some other disability-related reason.
  • Higher Utility Allowances – In cases where Section 8 tenants pay for their own utilities, a Housing Authority may provide a utility allowance. This would help with the cost of reasonable utility consumption. A Housing Authority must approve a higher utility allowance as a reasonable accommodation if the requestor establishes that it is necessary and reasonable for a tenant who uses disability-related equipment that results in higher utility bills.
  • Longer Search Times – A Section 8 tenant-based voucher recipient is generally given 60 calendar days after receiving their voucher to find a rental unit. A Housing Authority must give more time as a reasonable accommodation if the requestor establishes that their need for more time is necessary and reasonable. However, the reasonableness of multiple extension requests or an indefinite extension may be more difficult to prove and be met with resistance from the Housing Authority.
  • Reinstatement on a Waiting List – A Housing Authority may remove a voucher applicant from the waiting list under certain circumstances. One reason a person could be removed is if they do not respond to the Housing Authority’s requests for information and updates. However, if an applicant did not respond to such a request because of a disability, the Housing Authority could reinstate the applicant in the family’s former position on the waiting list as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Renting From a Relative – Federal rules do not allow Housing Authorities to approve a tenancy if the tenant's relatives own the unit. A Housing Authority may approve this as a reasonable accommodation for the tenant, if the requestor establishes that it is necessary and reasonable and if the owner does not live in the unit.
  • Assistance with Finding Accessible Unit - When a Housing Authority gives a voucher to a family that includes a person with a disability, it must provide a current listing of available accessible units known to the Housing Authority. If necessary, it may also provide other help to the household to find an accessible unit but the level and quality of such help may vary.

Making a Reasonable Accommodation Request to a Housing Authority

To receive a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification, you will need to ask for it. You do not need to ask for it in writing and you do not need to use the words “reasonable accommodation” or “reasonable modification.” However, it is a good idea to do both. This is because it will help make what you are asking for clearer. You may also need to use the document later to prove that you asked for the change. Sending your request by email is an easy way to have documentation for later. If you prefer to send it via USPS mail, be sure to keep a copy of your request for yourself and store it in a safe place. You can also send it via certified mail so that you have a receipt, but you do not need to do it this way.

The connection between the change you are requesting and your disability must be stated in your request. For example, it is not enough simply make a reasonable accommodation request by stating, “I am a person with a disability, and I want an extra bedroom.” A strong request needs more information. Instead, it will be more helpful and clear to state something like, “Because I have durable medical equipment that must be stored in a safe place, I am asking for a reasonable accommodation so I can have a voucher that will allow me to rent an apartment with an extra bedroom to store the equipment.” Below is a sample for making these requests to housing providers.

Keep in mind that some Housing Authorities have reasonable accommodation forms for you to fill out. While their forms can be helpful tools, the form itself cannot be required and sometimes the forms may ask for additional information beyond what is necessary for the reasonable accommodation request. Feel free to use our sample letter as a guide and attach your request to their form and write “see attached” in the questions sections of the form. You may be able to find your Housing Authority’s forms on their website. If not, you can ask your point of contact at the Housing Authority for a copy. It may be helpful to review your Housing Authority’s policies (Administrative Plan) for requesting reasonable accommodations and modifications for an overview of their specific process.

Sample Letter to a Housing Authority

[Date]

[Full name of the Housing Authority]

[Email address or physical address of the Housing Authority]

 

Dear [name of your point person at the Housing Authority]

I am writing to request the following reasonable accommodations/modifications for my disability:

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

 

This request is related to my disability because:

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

 

My [physician/psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist/social worker/occupational therapist /other individual] has deemed these accommodations/modifications necessary due to my disability. I can provide this verification if you need it.

Federal and state law require that a housing provider reasonably accommodate tenants/occupants and applicants who have disabilities.

Please respond to this request, in writing, by [date]. Please understand that failure to respond to a reasonable accommodation, undue delay in responding, or unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation request constitutes disability discrimination. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 12177(e). Feel free to contact me at [your e-mail address/phone number]. Thank you for your attention to this request.

 

Sincerely,

[Your name]

 

[Your address]

___________________________________________________________________

 

The Housing Authority will probably ask you to sign a medical release form after you send in your request. This form gives them permission to talk to a third party to verify the need for the accommodation. They usually ask for this when the resident’s need for the accommodation or modification is not obvious. A verification letter confirms that the person has a disability-related need for the change they are requesting. Below is a sample for medical verification letters which you can request ask your medical provider to fill out so you can attach it to your initial reasonable accommodation/reasonable modification request to hopefully speed up the process and reduce the paperwork back-and-forth which can occur. Additionally, you can view our resource “Reasonable Accommodation and Modification Requests in Housing: Verification Letters” for more information about verification letters.

Sample Verification Letter from a Medical Professional

[Date]

To [Housing Authority]:

 

I am the [physician/psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist/social worker/occupational therapist] for [patient/client name] and I am familiar with [his/her/their] condition. [Patient’s name] has a disability that causes certain functional limitations. These limitations include [list functional limitations that require the requested accommodation]:

 

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

 

[The requested accommodation] is necessary for [patient/client name] to live in the community and use and enjoy [his/her/their] dwelling by [describe how the accommodation will assist or support the individual [list the limitations that require the requested accommodation]:

 

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________

 

Thank you for providing this reasonable accommodation for [patient/client name].

 

Sincerely,

[Name and Title]

Getting Your PHA to Respond to Your Requests

For most Housing Authorities, your main point of contact should be your Eligibility/Case Worker. If you do not have one, you do not know how to contact them, or you are not sure who to contact, start with asking whether there is a 504 or ADA coordinator. You can try to get the contact information for the coordinator.

If the Housing Authority is unresponsive to your request after you have given them some time to review it, it may be helpful to contact your local HUD Public Housing Field office to see if they can help you get the Housing Authority to respond to you. You can find the contact number for your local HUD office here - https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/about/field_office If this doesn’t work, it may also be helpful to contact your local government officials or your Congressperson for help getting your Housing Authority to respond to you (https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative).

Enforcing Your Rights: Complaints and Lawsuits

If a Housing Authority denies your request for reasonable accommodations or modifications, you have several options. Your options are outlined below. Keep in mind that ultimately you might need to file an administrative complaint or a lawsuit to enforce your rights. These options can take a long time.

Informal Hearings

You may be able to ask the Housing Authority for an informal hearing. This may offer the simplest and quickest resolution for you. Although federal regulations do not guarantee the right to an informal hearing for reasonable accommodation requests, many Housing Authorities include the right to an informal hearing in their Administrative Plans. Please know that the procedures for requesting an informal hearing will vary for each Housing Authority. However, most Housing Authorities have a deadline for requesting an informal hearing and most written notices should advise you about the deadlines for challenging the Housing Authorities action or decision. Check your denial letter and if there is no information about deadlines provided, check the Housing Authority’s Administrative Plan to make sure you request a hearing before the deadline. If you miss the deadline, and the reason you missed it is disability-related, you can request a reasonable accommodation that the Housing Authority grant your request for hearing even though you are past the deadline.

Administrative Complaints

You can file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (HUD-FHEO).1 You must file a complaint within one year of the most recent date of discrimination. Information on how to file a HUD-FHEO complaint can be found by calling 1-800-669-9777 or on HUD’s website: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint Information on what the complaint process will look like can be found here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/complaint-process

You can also consider filing an administrative complaint with California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You must file a complaint within one year of the most recent date of discrimination. You can file online (by creating an account), by phone at (800) 884-1684, or by mail. More information on filing a complaint can be found here: https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/complaintprocess/

For more information about CRD’s process, see CRD’s complaint flowchart here:https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2022/09/CRD-Non-Employment-Flowchart_ENG.pdf.

If CRD does not make a finding in your favor, CRD’s decision can be appealed to the CRD Director within 10 days of the decision.2

If you need an accommodation in working with CRD, contact CRD's ADA coordinator. You can find their information here - https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/adacoordinator/

Private Lawsuits

You can enforce your rights through civil lawsuits filed in federal or state court. Before suing a public entity such as a Housing Authority, however, you must first file a Government Claim Form under CA Government Code 910. For more information, please see this guide from the Sacramento County Public Law Library: https://saclaw.org/resource_library/claims-against-the-government/

You do not need to have a lawyer; you can file a lawsuit on your own. Additionally, if you sue in small claims court, you cannot have a lawyer. There are time limits (“statutes of limitations”) that restrict how much time you have for filing claims in court. You may automatically lose the case if you fail to file the lawsuit within that timeframe. These deadlines can be as short as 2 years from the date of the last discriminatory act. You will have to pay filing fees to file your lawsuit, and may be responsible for additional filing fees as the lawsuit progresses. But, you may qualify for a fee waiver if you cannot afford to pay the filing fees.

If you are interested in filing a lawsuit, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. You can get advice, discuss your options, and potentially get representation. Please note that you are not entitled to a free lawyer for these types of lawsuits, and you may need to pay a lawyer upfront or on a contingency fee basis to help you bring a lawsuit.

Small Claims

If you are seeking up to $12,500 in money damages, you can file a discrimination case in Small Claims Court. Before suing a public entity, however, you must first file a Government Claim Form under CA Government Code 910. For more information, please see this guide from the Sacramento County Public Law Library: https://saclaw.org/resource_library/claims-against-the-government/

Small Claims Court cases must be filed before the time limits (“statutes of limitations”) expire. There is a filing fee unless you are eligible for a fee waiver. You can consult with a lawyer about Small Claims Court cases, but a lawyer cannot represent you in Small Claims Court. You can visit your local court’s Self-Help Center for assistance with filing or to speak with a Small Claims Advisor.

For more information, you can visit the following pages:

  1. California Courts Self Help Guide, Small Claims Basics - https://selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/small-claims-california
  2. Disability Rights California, A Guide to Small Claims Court: How to Sue if a Business or Landlord Discriminates Against You Because of Your Disability - https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files?file=file-attachments/520601_0.pdf
  • 1. The Fair Housing Amendments Act allows for this.
  • 2. See 2 C.C.R. Section 10065