For Virginia community associations, requests for accessible parking to accommodate a disability come in many forms. The requests range from the request for a parking space reserved for people with disabilities to a parking space closer to their residence, including border reductions, reconfiguration and / or reconfiguration of a parking space. These requests involve a change in an association’s rule or policy and / or a physical change or alteration of ownership. Whether it’s a request for a rule or policy on the one hand, or a physical change on the other, it’s important to note that it has an impact on who is responsible for the costs. Regarding accessible parking requests, this was the requesting party for a change in a rule or policy (i.e. reasonable accommodation) or association if it is a physical change (i.e. a reasonable change).
As of July 1, 2021, the distinction between whether an accessible parking request is an accommodation or modification request has been removed. Instead, the Virginia Fair Housing Law (“VFHL”) has been amended to provide that all requests for accessible parking to accommodate a disability will be treated as a request for reasonable accommodation, even if it includes a physical amendment. This is important because Virginia community associations will now be financially responsible for all costs associated with accessible parking requests.
As community associations are well aware, the VFHL prohibits associations from refusing to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for persons with disabilities that may be necessary to provide such persons an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. The VFHL, as recently amended, provides a good opportunity to examine some important considerations for processing accessible parking requests.
Who qualifies as having a disability
Fair housing laws define a person with a disability as including individuals:
(a) with a physical or mental impairment which considerably limits one or more of the main activities of that person’s life;
(b) with a record of having such a disability; or
(c) considered to have such an impairment.
A “physical or mental impairment” can include any of the following:
(i) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following bodily systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including the organs of speech; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; or endocrine; or
(ii) any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual or developmental disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, or specific learning disability.
“Physical or mental impairment” includes diseases and conditions such as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy; autism; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; Cancer; heart disease; Diabetes; human immunodeficiency virus infection; intellectual and developmental disabilities; emotional illness; drug addiction other than drug addiction caused by the current illegal use of a controlled substance; and alcoholism.
The term “substantially limits” “suggests that the limitation is” significant “or” to a large extent “. “ The term “major life activities” includes taking care of oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.
Fair housing laws provide legal protections to a person with a disability who resides or intends to reside in housing, as well as to anyone associated with a person with a disability. Given the long list of ailments, diseases and disorders referred to as disabilities, it is not surprising that some disabilities are observable while others are not apparent. This creates confusion for community associations and requires careful consideration in deciding how to deal with a reasonable accessible parking request.
Information Community Associations Can Look For
Community associations are required to promptly review and consider a person’s request for accessible parking. A community association is notified of a request when a disabled person, a family member or a person acting on behalf of that person requests accessible parking to accommodate a disability. A request can be verbal or written, and failure to respond in a timely manner to accessible parking may be considered denial of the request. There is no magic language or required form that should be used if the request can be reasonably inferred.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to considering such requests. Each request relates to specific facts and circumstances and must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Community associations are, however, permitted to obtain certain information in order to determine whether a request for accessible parking is necessary due to a disability. The type and extent of information that a community association can request depends in part on whether the disability and / or disability-related need of the applicant for an accessible parking request is known or readily apparent. In general, the types of requests a community association can make to determine if the request for accessible parking is reasonable and necessary are as follows:
- Has the person requested accessible parking due to a disability? In other words, is the demand due to physical or mental disability?
- Does the person have an observable disability or does the community association already have information such that they have reason to know the person has a disability?
- If the disability is not obvious or known, has the person requesting accessible parking provided information that reasonably supports the person seeking accommodation has a disability? Please note that community associations are not permitted to ask questions about the nature or extent of a person’s disability or to know the person’s diagnosis.
- If the disability is not evident and the need for the accessible parking request is also not evident or known, has the person requesting the accommodation provided information that reasonably supports that the accommodation accessible parking is required for the person’s disability? This survey focuses on the link between disability and the need for accessible parking.
As for the documentation in support of an accessible parking request, it may come from a health professional or another third party having a professional or therapeutic relationship with the disabled person involving the provision of services related to the impairment. Since each accessible parking request is unique, the type of information and documentation that a community association may seek out depends on the circumstances. Community associations should consult their legal advisor to determine what information and documents can be sought.
When can an accessible parking request be refused?
A request for accessible parking to accommodate a disability may be refused under limited circumstances. Before doing so, community associations should consult with legal counsel. Refusing a request for an accommodation for accessible parking should not be taken lightly and could give rise to a complaint. A community association may refuse a request for accessible parking only if (a) the request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability, (b) there is no need for accommodation related to the disability , or (c) the request is not reasonable as it would create an undue financial and administrative burden for the community association or it would fundamentally change the nature of the operations of the community association. Finally, before denying an accessible parking request, a community association may be required to engage in an “interactive process” where the association and the requester have further discussions related to the parking request. Again, community associations should consult their legal advisor before denying any request.
In addition to the above considerations, Virginia community associations should review, adjust, and / or plan budgets to include the potential cost of providing accessible parking. Community associations should also consider adopting a reasonable accommodation and modification policy for fair housing that will not only meet requests for accessible parking, but also any other accommodation or modification requests that the association may have. receive (for example, service animals, installation of ramps, etc.). Such a policy provides consistency and structure for evaluating requests and may also include an adaptation / modification form for asking people to complete and submit.
 In addition to the VFHL, the federal Fair Housing Modifications Act of 1988 (“FHA”) also prohibits discriminatory housing practices, to which community associations in Virginia are also subject. Reference in this article to “fair housing laws” includes the VFHL as well as the FHA.
 To see 24 CFR § 100.201; Virginia Code § 36-96.1: 1.
 To see Joint statement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, Q 3 (May 17, 2004).
 To see 24 CFR § 100.201; Virginia Code § 36-96.1: 1.
 To see 42 USC §3604 (f) (2); Virginia Code §36-96.3 (A) (9); 18 VAC 135-50-200 (C) and (D).
 See in general Joint statement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (May 17, 2004).
 See Id. to Q 7-8.