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Changing Monthly Rent Date to Accommodate a Disability

Good news for individuals with disabilities who are recipients of Social Security Disability Income! A federal district court in Pennsylvania found that a landlord’s refusal to make a reasonable accommodation by changing the rental payment due date for individuals with disabilities who receive disability benefits can violate the Fair Housing Act. The Court’s ruling opens the door for a jury to find that requesting a change in the rental due date as a reasonable accommodation is reasonable and necessary to afford disabled tenants an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling.

The Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. Sections 3601-3619) prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. In the cases of disability, the act states that a reasonable accommodation must be made to a housing provider’s “rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.[1]” A three-prong test is used to determine whether an accommodation request is reasonable: whether the “requested accommodation is (1) reasonable and (2) necessary to (3) afford handicapped persons an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.[2]”

Individuals who receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) receive one check or deposit into their account per month. This income is not always received on the first of each month. For example, some individuals receive their SSDI on the third Thursday of every month. You cannot change the date you receive your funds. This can make paying rent on the first of each month difficult. This has been a problem that has plagued individuals with disabilities since the Social Security Administration changed its benefit payment distribution system. It has led to numerous late payments as well as eviction proceedings.

Prior to this decision, a common view regarding recipients of SSDI and paying rent was that the individuals should learn to budget so that they would be using their check from the previous month to pay next month’s rent. This solution failed to consider that many recipients of SSDI live benefit check to benefit check making budgeting next to impossible. With this decision, Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Morgan Properties Management Center, LLC, the court reiterated that financial circumstances resulting from a disability are relevant to the determination of what is a necessary accommodation.

The court found that the request to change the rental payment due date was necessary to being able to rent an apartment from this property. Without this change, SSDI recipients who could otherwise afford the apartment would not be able to rent the apartment as they could not pay on time.

Interestingly, the court also applied Congress’s definition of “otherwise make unavailable” and found this to be a disparate impact case. The Act states that it is unlawful to “discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of…[3]. Congress has noted that “another method of making housing unavailable to people with disabilities has been the application or enforcement of otherwise neutral rules and regulations … which discriminates against people with disabilities.[4]” It noted that the apartment’s facially neutral policy disproportionally affected SSDI recipients. This is another violation of the FHAA.

As affordable housing becomes harder to find, it is important to protect and support stable, affordable housing. This would be another important protection for individuals with disabilities assuring them of their right to live independently.

[1] - 42 U.S.C. Section 3604(f)(3)(B). 
[2] - Revock v. Cowpet Bay W. Condo. Ass’n., 853 F.3d 96, 110 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Lapid–Laurel, L.L.C. v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of the Twp. of Scotch Plains, 284 F.3d 442, 457 (3d Cir. 2002)).
[3] - 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(1).
[4] - Fair Housing Rights Center v. Morgan Properties – ED Pa. – June 29, 2018 – (24 pp.).