Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Court: Landlord’s Creditworthiness Policies Must Accommodate Disability
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A landlord must accommodate the disability of an AIDS sufferer by individually considering his proposed means of assuring payment of rent, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Provisions of the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act barring discrimination against the disabled do not permit a landlord to rely on a blanket policy barring co-signers on leases to reject a prospective tenant whose income has become limited due to illness with AIDS, Judge Marsha M. Berzon said.
Berzon said U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California erred in granting summary judgment for M&B Associates in the suit brought by John Giebeler. Giebeler had asked the company to allow his mother, who lived nearby, to co-sign for the apartment he wanted to rent.
His income did not meet the company’s qualification requirements after he was forced to stop working as a psychiatric technician because of his illness.
M&B’s refusal to waive its policy against co-signers was a failure to accommodate Giebeler’s disability under the FHAA, Berzon said.
“Our cases involving FHAA challenges to generally applicable zoning policies confirm that reasonable accommodations can function to adjust for special needs that flow from the inability of disabled residents to meet otherwise applicable financial requirements,” the judge wrote.
Berzon said the accommodation Giebeler requested was reasonable, explaining:
“The record reveals that, as one would expect, the purpose of M & B’s minimum income requirement is to ensure that tenants have sufficient income to pay rent consistently and promptly. This interest is, of course, considerable. However, allowing a financially eligible relative to rent an apartment for a disabled individual who, except for his current financial circumstances, is qualified to be a tenant does not unreasonably threaten this interest.”
The judge noted that the FHAA defines discrimination to include a refusal to make reasonable accommodations.
The jurist elaborated:
“We stress once more that Giebeler was in no way trying to avoid payment of the usual rent for the apartment he wanted to live in, nor was he proposing to leave M & B without a means of ascertaining that an individual with the means to pay that rent would be responsible for doing so. Giebeler’s modest request that his financially qualified mother be allowed to rent an apartment for him to live in, affording him the opportunity to live in a suitable dwelling despite his disability, was a request for a reasonable accommodation within the intendment of the FHAA, and should have been honored.”
Judge William A. Fletcher and Senior Judge David R. Thompson concurred.
The case is Giebeler v. M&B Associates, 00-17508.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company