Many clients ask us whether they are obligated to pay for a sign language interpreter to be present at meetings at the request of a deaf homeowner. The short answer to this questions is yes. A community association must provide interpreters to enable deaf or hearing-impaired owners to participate in the association meetings. The only exception to this requirement is if the association can show that making the requested accommodation would place an undue financial burden on the association. The cost of the interpreter must be borne by the association and treated as a common expense covered by assessments of all of the owners.
Under the Fair Housing Act, condominium and homeowners associations are prohibited from discriminating against the disabled or refusing to make reasonable accommodations that would allow a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit, public use, and common areas. Being an owner in a community association includes the right to participate in and vote as association meetings. If a deaf or hearing-impaired person requires a sign language interpreter in order to participate in important activities at the meetings which would affect the owner’s legal or financial rights, then providing an interpreter is a reasonable accommodation required by the FHA.
In order to be considered “reasonable,” an accommodation must not fundamentally alter the operations of the association and may not pose undue financial or administrative burdens. Although we are unaware of case law which specifically addresses community associations and sign language interpreters, there is anecdotal evidence that deaf owners have filed successful discrimination claims with fair housing agencies after associations refused to provide interpreters.
If your association is faced with this question and the Board is grappling with whether to make the requested accommodation, be sure to consult with your association's attorney. He/she should be able to walk you through the process of determining if the requested accommodation is reasonable and whether it presents an undue financial burden. (For example, if paying for the interpreter would annoy most owners, that does not qualify as an "undue financial burden." If, however, it is an 8 unit association and paying for the interpreter would require the association to levy a special assessment, that might rise to the level of placing an undue financial burden on the association.)
And, if you have any questions we can answer, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us directly. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you in our future posts!