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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Housing Coalition **** Off

So here is my letter to the Housing Coalition, and also CC:ed to Lori Swanson, Attorney General of Minnesota. Do you think I will get any results?

May 23, 2007

Attn: Housing Coalition President

RE: Reasonable Accommodations Requested Under the Fair Housing Act

It is with deep regret that I am forced to write this letter. I am a new tenant of "..". I signed my lease with the Housing Coalition on May 1, 2007. Shortly after signing my lease I followed up with Kris Lieser with a request for a reasonable accommodation requiring a change in Housing Coalition policy to help meet the needs of my disabled son, Sandis Rittmann, who has autism. My request was for a duplicate house key. I requested the duplicate house key to provide on occasion to Sandis’s PCA. Sandis has numerous appointments during the week at therapy to which his PCA transports him to, and he also has a personal care plan with ARISE Home Health Care listing goals to attain that include things like: personal safety, functional daily life skills, and reducing level one behaviors towards which Sandis and his PCA work to reach daily. Sandis qualifies for 14 hours per week of PCA services. Sandis’s PCA typically picks him up after school, transports him to his therapy appointments, and then transports him to his home where they together work on their goals and wait for my arrival home from work. We are unable to maintain this schedule without a duplicate key to provide to Sandis’s PCA on the days that I am not home when they arrive. This detracts from Sandis’s basic right to use and enjoy his dwelling and to work towards his basic functional daily skills goals, as well as his personal safety and aggressive behavior goals.

I initially spoke to Kris Lieser within a week of signing my lease (May 1st). I was told that I would have to provide proof of Sandis’s disability. I provided this proof in the application process when I provided proof of Sandis’s SSI monthly income. I was then told that I would have to provide proof of Sandis actually having a PCA from the Home Health Agency that provides the PCA. Kris was scornful in her conversation with me, informing me that by denying a duplicate key to my family would actually be doing my family a favor. In her words: “Imagine this Sarah, you have your duplicate key in your kitchen drawer and you have your friends over and one of your friends steals your keys and uses it to rob you later. We are saving you a lot of hassle.” I was remiss for words, as I wondered what kind of friends Kris imagined I had and associated with. I also mentioned to Kris the desire to put up a magnetic door alarm. Kris responded with: “As long as it doesn’t alter the door. We had a family that put up a door alarm that altered the door and some time later the police got involved and had to kick the door in.” Again, I was remiss for words, wondering how often Kris imagined I was in contact with the police. After having some exposure to my criminal records during the application process she should know I have no criminal history! To accommodate Kris’s request for proof from my home health agency verifying that Sandis does indeed have a PCA the agency faxed a letter outlining that Sandis does indeed receive PCA services, the name of his current PCA, and that all employees of Arise Home Health Care have a completed a background study conducted by the State of Minnesota prior to their employment. Kris indicated to me that receipt of this documentation would not guarantee receipt of a duplicate key, and even foreshadowed the event to come telling me not to expect to be approved for a duplicate key as it is not their policy to make exceptions to their duplicate key policy for any reason and the request would more than likely be denied. I followed through, despite her obvious discouragement and callous attitude, and submitted the requested information.

On May 23, 2007 I called Kris Lieser to find out the status of the request for my reasonable accommodation for a duplicate house key to provide for Sandis’s PCA on days she would need them. Kris rudely informed me that the request was denied by the board. I informed Kris that this was failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with a disability and she responded that this was not a request based on a disability. Kris also had informed me in the initial conversation soon after lease signing that I should not be leaving my child alone at home with a PCA.

I believe the Housing Coalition has violated the Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act by denying this request. I have included a 12 page document that thoroughly explains this act in respect to Reasonable Accommodations and I have underlined what is relevant to this request. I will here outline my reasoning for each instance:

Page 1: “ One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”

Sandis is being denied the right to use and enjoy his dwelling as he is unable to pursue his therapeutic goals with his PCA during the hours that I am at work at his home, even though his PCA is fully qualified to care for Sandis and that is what she is employed to do. She is employed to help care for Sandis in his home and she is unable to do this during the hours that I am at work as she has no entryway into the home.

Page 2: “The Act also makes it unlawful for any person to refuse “to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling…:”

While many children Sandis’s age are able to enjoy an after school activity, Sandis’s afternoons are devoted to learning basic functional and personal safety skills in the home setting. By denying the duplicate key to be provided on the occasions when I can not be at home (when I am at work) you are denying Sandis’s basic right to learn daily life, functional, and safety skills.

Page 2: “Any person or entity engaging in prohibited conduct - I.e. refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling may be held liable unless they fall within an exception to the Act’s coverage.”

From the law that I have read, the Housing Coalition is completely held accountable for providing reasonable accommodations and is not exempt from providing this reasonable accommodation that I have requested.

Page 2: “ The Act defines a person with a disability to include (1) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.; (2) individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and (2) individuals wit a record of such impairment.”

“The term physical or mental impairment includes but is not limited to such diseases and conditions as: …autism…”

“The term major life activity means those activities that are of central importance to daily life such as:…..caring for oneself, learning…”

As is outlined in the law, Sandis clearly qualifies as having a disability. Autism is even specifically stated as a condition that qualifies as a disability in the law. The things that Sandis’s home based PCA services addressed fall neatly into caring for oneself and learning.

Page 4: “ A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling…..The Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling”

The Housing Coalition is by law denying my son’s right to home therapies in his home, and denying my son’s right to “use and enjoy” his dwelling by denying the issuance of a duplicate key to be provided for his PCA on those days that I am unavailable to be at home so home programming can be pursued.

Page 5: “ “A request for a reasonable accommodation may be denied if providing the accommodation is not reasonable - I.e. it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operations.”

I find it hard to believe that issuing one duplicate key will cause either financial or administrative burden.
It is easier to believe that the Housing Coalition is unwilling to accommodate a request for a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with a well documented disability and well documented need for the accommodation.

“When a housing provider refuses a requested accommodation because it is not reasonable, the provider should discuss with the requester whether there is an alternative accommodation that would effectively address the requester’s disability-related needs without a fundamental alteration to the provider’s operations and without imposing an undue financial and administrative burden.”

I was not informed directly of the denial of the request, although I left a message. I was forced to call and follow up myself with Kris Lieser. While informed of the denial, no alternative accommodations were recommended and when I requested to be informed of the appeal process, I was informed that I could not appeal the decision made by the board.

“However, providers should be aware that persons with disabilities typically have the most accurate knowledge about the functional limitations posed by their disability, and an individual is not obligated to accept an alternative accommodation suggested by the provider if she believes it will not meet her needs and her preferred accommodation is reasonable.”

I feel as though the Housing Coalition has mocked and belittled my request from the beginning, negating the request before it even made it to the board. I have been faced with discrimination due to mis-education concerning autism and basic presumptions about my person without assuming I understand the functional limitations of my son’s autism more than they.

Page 6: “Courts have ruled that the Act may require a housing provider to grant a reasonable accommodation that involves cost, so long as the reasonable accommodation does not pose an undue financial and administrative burden and the requested accommodation does not constitute a fundamental alteration of the provider’s operations.”

The cost incurred providing a duplicate key is minimal and more than reasonable.

“Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation”

Upon receipt of key as a reasonable accommodation, I shall not have to pay for it.

Page 7: “Under the Act, a resident or an applicant for housing makes a reasonable accommodation request whenever she makes it clear to the housing provider that she is requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service because of her disability. She should explain what type of accommodation she is requesting and if the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent or known to the provider, explain the relationship between the requested accommodation and her disability.”

I initially requested orally this accommodation with Kris Lieser the beginning of May and I have provided adequate documentation outlining the need for such accommodation.

“The request can be made by a family member or someone else who is acting on her behalf.”

I requested on behalf of my son.

Page 8: “A provider has an obligation to provide prompt responses to reasonable accommodation requests. An undue delay in responding to a reasonable accommodation request may be deemed to be a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.”

Despite requesting the accommodation in early May (first week) my denial was not processed until May 23rd and I was given no process to appeal the decision.

Page 10: “(1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the Act’s definition of disability….(2) describes the needed accommodation and (3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation”

I have shown through documentation of Sandis’s SSI income and through the letter from ARISE that Sandis qualifies as having a disability and how the reasonable accommodation ties into his disability.

As I have clearly outlined in this letter, The Housing Coalition’s denial of my request for a duplicate key to provide on occasion (when needed) to Sandis’s PCA so she can provide home services to help Sandis learn basic life functional and safety skills in the home setting denies my son the opportunity to use and enjoy his home.

I have filed a discrimination complaint with HUD on May 23, 2007 on the basis of Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations. I fully expect this matter to be resolved appropriately before HUD has the opportunity to address this matter. I am perplexed at the clear denial of rights to my son and my family as a family that regularly deals with special needs of children and is choosing the most appropriate way to request accommodations to thrive and use/enjoy their new home.

I am also Copying this letter to Lori Swanson, Attorney General of Minnesota.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter and my concerns,



bethany said...

way to stand up for yourself and your Sandis. i think the letter was well written and that these people are crazy. you're obviously a great mom and just trying to do your best. don't let them stop you!

Amber-Bams said...

That is a great letter! I can't see how they would deny you this right. Go you!!

Unknown said...

You did a great job! There is no way they are going to be able to prove that an extra key would be financially or administratively burdensome. When you are working with HUD to resolve your complaint, I would try to push for the Coalition to receive Fair Housing training-sounds like those guys have no clue what they are doing.

Camera Obscura said...

Go Sarah!

Drea said...

I certainly hope you get positive results. You did your homework, and have the appropriate documentation!

It makes my blood boil to know they denied you. I can not believe!

Kelsey said...

You are so awesome! That's a wonderfully written and well researched letter. It's unfortunate that you had to put in so much work for a simple accomodation. They'll sure learn not to ignore your requests in the future!

Major Bedhead said...

Excellent letter. Let us know how it turns out. That woman in the lease office sounds like a horrible person altogether.

Minnesota Nice said...

Yes, the first thing I thought was how you had to spend so much time researching and writing this letter. So unnecessary, but, great letter.

mysamiam said...

Wow, I just had a chance to get caught up. I can't imagine how you will be denied after this letter is at its appropriate destinations. And "duh" to them for telling you shouldn't leave Sandis alone with a PCA, good Lord. I think that is wonderful that you are able to get one. That is something I wish we could afford. Our TEFRA copay would be way too expensive. Rrrrrggg. Best wishes.