Fair housing plays a critical role when managing off-campus student resident issues.
For many, their college days included fond (and not so fond) memories of roommates during the first true away-from-home life experience. Today, dealing with roommate situations are a thing of the past-except for student housing providers or professionals (SHPs). As the world is changing, SHPs are facing new issues and twists on old, familiar challenges when it comes to operating their housing.
Listening closely, one may hear the whirring of the blades of helicopter parents, whose omnipresence in their chldren's lives can create even more controversial day-to-day situations. But that doesn't have to be the case.
Attendees of the 2016 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition came together in February to listen to a panel of fair housing specialists discuss such timely predicaments.
Marijuana. This was a different type of issue, way back when. Today, in some areas, its use is legal for both recreational and medicinal reasons. Can SHPs have policies that prohibit the smoking of marijuana? Yes.
In states where marijuana use is legal and within a student housing property that allows it, are student residents permitted a choice on whether to live with a roommate who smokes it? Yes.
Do you have to allow the smoking of marijuana as a reasonable accommodation for a disability? Maybe. While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not recognize the use of marijuana as a reasonable accommodation, a state court might think otherwise.
Guns. Can guns be banned at a private community? Yes.
While local or state governments may not be able to restrict guns, owners of private apartment communities can make whatever rules desired, unless prohibited by a specific state law (such as in Minnesota where owners/managers are prohibited from limiting residents from owning guns).
Review state laws prior to banning guns and then remember that those rules should be clearly stated in the lease or house rules. Prospective residents can then decide whether to live there or not. May guns be banned at an on-campus (hence government) community? Maybe. On-campus housing is governed by the school's gun-carry rules, which are based on state law.
Babies. Those darling infants can give rise to familial status fair housing issues in "by-the-bed" rental/roomie situations. Best practices include:
- Not counting a child under a certain age as an occupant;
- Limiting housing to those who are full-time students at a place of higher education;
- Considering "by the bed" to be a "special circumstance," and allowing only one infant per bedroom, while leasing the other units at the community with a more reasonable occupancy policy.
Guinea Pigs. Service/assist animals (which is becoming a huge issue in the apartment housing industry) applies, of course, to student housing as well.
Consider that it was a student housing case that determined that, yes, a guinea pig, can be an assist animal for a person with a disability. Therefore, on-campus and private student housing must permit students' assist animals. The SHP does have the right to verify through a third-party professional both the student's disability status and the need for the assist animal.
The SHP also can require students to comply with reasonable assist-animal rules. When a roommate objects to living with an assist animal, SHPs should honor the roommate's request not to do so only if the roommate can verify that their own disability (as defined by the Fair Housing Act) is affected by that animal.
FHA states that federal laws define a person with a disability as "Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment."
In general, a physical or mental impairment includes hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS-related complex and mental retardation that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include walking, talking, hearing, seeing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks and caring for oneself.
Yes, the times they-are-a-changing. And the wise SHP will keep on learning just as those students need to be doing.
This article was written by Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions, based on the 2016 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition education session presented by Nadeen and attorneys Terry Kitay and Kathi Williams, all of whom remind you that this article is not intended as legal advice.
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