Article by: Adam Knobler

2014 PEPP. L. REV. 35 (2014)

The famous eighteenth century German writer, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once remarked that, “[h]e is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” Indeed, one’s home can provide a welcome refuge from the fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle of the modern world. Unfortunately, without the necessary housing accommodation or modification, tenants with disabilities cannot enjoy the same sense of comfort and convenience that many of us associate with our homes. More and more, landlords are denying tenants with disabilities housing accommodations or modifications out of ignorance, apathy, or outright prejudice. Often the tenant must bear the burden of locating alternate housing, while the landlord needlessly loses valuable rental income. Should the tenant decide to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), what ensues is a lengthy, bureaucratic investigative procedure. Should the tenant instead choose immediate litigation, the result is often the same. As an alternative to these forms of dispute resolution, this article suggests the use of a specialized mediator to resolve disability accommodation disputes in the landlord/tenant context.

After first providing a background on federal housing laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability, this article then proceeds to describe and analyze the remedies available to tenants who have experienced disability discrimination. The article concludes that, not only are such remedies as filing a complaint or pursuing litigation difficult and time-consuming, they could also damage the long-term relationship between the parties and preclude the possibility of creative remedies that satisfy the needs of both parties. The article finishes by proposing that HUD develop an agency-wide mediation program based on the model of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mediation program, with a mediator who specializes in federal housing laws and who has experience with mediating disability accommodation disputes.

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