United States of America v. Aqua 388 Community Association 2023 WL 6890753 US Dist Ct., C.D. California (October 6, 2023)
What you need to know:
- If a handicapped person asks for a parking spot to accommodate a disability, grant it unless you have a legal opinion that you don’t need to.
- Contesting a reasonable accommodation case can be time-consuming and expensive, even if you win. If you lose, it’s even more expensive.
Issue: Did the association discriminate against the plaintiff by refusing her request for a “handicap parking spot with enough space for an accessible van?”
Facts: Plaintiff is a paraplegic and drives a modified wheelchair-accessible minivan that requires 8 feet of clearance on the passenger side. Plaintiff bought her unit in late 2016. The parking garage underneath the association contains 888 parking spots. Most spots are assigned to residents, but 56 guest parking spots exist and 19 accessible parking spots. Plaintiff’s unit came with an assigned parking spot located in the middle of a row that was “non-handicap accessible.” At various times Plaintiff asked the association/defendant:
- To assign her a handicapped-accessible spot;
- Introduce her to her neighbors assigned to spots that were at the end of a row that she might be able to use; and
- To switch her spot for an accessible spot or a staff spot;
Instead of accommodating the Plaintiff, the association attorney sent Plaintiff a letter stating there “does not appear to be any nexus between the accommodation you have requested and your disability.” In March of 2018, after several requests had been denied, Plaintiff filed a complaint with HUD. On February 13, 2020, the association assigned Plaintiff an accessible spot. HUD investigated the complaint from March 2018 to September 2022, when HUD issued a charge of discrimination.
Suit: In April of 2023, the United States brought an FHA discrimination claim in the district court against the association for “failing to reasonably accommodate a disability. The Court found that FHA claims have 5 distinct elements:
- That the plaintiff is handicapped within the meaning of the US Code;
- That the defendant knew or should reasonably be expected to know of the handicap;
- That accommodation of the handicap may be necessary to afford the handicapped person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling;
- That the accommodation is reasonable; and
- That defendant refused to make the requested accommodation.
The Court held that the association essentially admitted all of the elements, except for the fourth: whether the accommodation was reasonable. There were two ways for Plaintiff to meet the initial burden on this element: i) evidence that a reasonable accommodation was possible or ii) by showing that the accommodation was “reasonable on its face.” Plaintiff met both since the association actually assigned her a spot 2 years after her request and since there are “numerous” cases finding that the assignment of an accessible parking spot is a reasonable accommodation. The association tried a number of defenses, including that assigning Plaintiff a handicapped spot would create a “tragedy of commons” resulting in a shortfall of accessible spaces because so many people would request them. The court found this argument “meritless” citing Ninth Circuit cases that had held such an argument “premature” and that parking adjustments are normally required only in “unusual circumstances.”