The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on tenants across North Carolina, especially for people with disabilities. Below are some answers to common questions about the virus and housing discrimination:
- Is COVID-19 a disability under the Fair Housing Act?
Although much remains unknown about COVID-19, people currently suffering from COVID-19, those who have a history of the virus, and those who are perceived as having the virus, may be protected against housing discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act defines a person with disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Generally, whether a person has a disability under the Fair Housing Act is an individualized, fact-specific inquiry. Individuals who contract COVID-19 may experience impairments that substantially limit their major life activities, such as not being able to walk long distances, not being able to leave their home, or not being able to care for themselves. If you experience discrimination related to COVID-19, contact the Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project for assistance and advice.
- Reasonable Accommodations for a person with COVID-19?
Reasonable accommodations are changes to rules, policies, practices, or services that may be necessary to allow a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. Landlords and other housing providers must generally grant a reasonable accommodation request if it is necessary to accommodation the disability, and it does not create and undue financial and administrative burden. Reasonable accommodations may impose some cost to a housing provider.
Assuming COVID-19 is a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act, then a person with COVID-19 (or a history of having COVID-19 or being associated with a person with COVID-19) would be entitled to request a reasonable accommodation. If you experience discrimination related to COVID-19, contact the Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project for assistance and advice.
- Reasonable Accommodation for people in high risk groups?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that people over the age of 65 and people with certain underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk of severe illness or complications from COVID-19. Because of this, the CDC and medical professionals have advised that individuals at higher risk should limit their exposure to other people. This impacts people’s ability to conduct daily life activities.
Many, if not all, of the underlying medical conditions that make people more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 related illnesses are considered disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. If a tenant with a disability needs a change to a landlord’s rules or policies in order to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19, they should be entitled to a reasonable accommodation. For example, a tenant that was scheduled to vacate their unit by a certain date could request additional time to remain in the unit, or a person could need modified guest policies to allow caregivers and persons bringing supplies to the individual.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with reasonable accommodations, contact the Fair Housing Project by e-mail or toll free at 855-797-3247.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Summer 2020
Subscribe to the Newsletter