Court Rules That Acceptance of Voucher May be Reasonable Accommodation

In Arnold v. Elmington Property Management, LLC, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ruled that a landlord should grant as a reasonable accommodation its acceptance of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers submitted by a tenant as part of its rent payment. The landlord could not show that such acceptance would fundamentally alter property operations or cause undue administrative burdens.

The decision was handed down in July 2022, in the favor of the tenant, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), neuropathy, and heart disease. The tenant received the voucher in 2005 and began renting a unit at Valley Crest Apartments in 2017 with the voucher.

Elmington Property Management bought Valley Crest in 2021 and immediately informed residents that vouchers would not be accepted any longer.

In November 2021, the resident requested that Elmington waive the no voucher policy as a reasonable accommodation. Elmington denied the request as unreasonable but did not state why the request was unreasonable. Nor did Elmington engage in the required “interactive process” with the resident.

The court found that by accepting the voucher, Elmington would receive the full rent for the unit. Only the source of the funds would change.

Elmington argued that “forced participation in Section 8 is not a reasonable accommodation”, citing Salute v. Stratford Greens Garden Apartments, a case in which the Second Circuit Court found that a landlord’s Section 8 participation and its related requirements necessarily imposed “unreasonable costs, an undue hardship, and a substantial burden.”

In this case, the court disagreed, stating that the landlord must show “special (typically case-specific) circumstances that demonstrate undue hardship in the particular circumstances.” The court relied on the principle of “balancing the parties’ needs” in their determination. In this case, the court ruled that Elmington presented no specific evidence that acceptance of the voucher would present an undue financial and administrative burden or fundamentally alter the property’s operations.

Bottom Line: Reasonable accommodation requests by the disabled can take many forms. If the applicant or resident can demonstrate that the request is necessary due to a disability, the burden is likely to fall on the landlord to prove that it is “unreasonable” in the particular case.