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Herbold’s Bill Broadens Definition of ‘Reasonable Accommodations’ for People with Disabilities

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park), and Chair of the Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee, issued the following statement today following the unanimous passage of Council Bill (CB) 119316, a bill to broaden the responsibility for providing reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities:

“Thank you to my Council colleagues who saw the pressing need to amend the Open Housing Ordinance (Chapter 14.08 of the Seattle Municipal Code) for the betterment of tenants everywhere who are living with disabilities.

“Earlier this year, a tenant of Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) was eligible for a voucher to cover 30 percent of the rent for a studio apartment, and had requested a voucher with a subsidy appropriate for a one-bedroom apartment based on the need for a disability related accommodation. SHA refused to grant the request.

“The tenant claimed that the refusal denied her a reasonable accommodation to which she was entitled and in doing so, violated Section 14.08.040.D, which prompted litigation and a decision from the Court of Appeals for the State of Washington.

“In its opinion, the Court noted that ‘if the City wishes to extend the unfair practice requirement of SMC 14.08.040.D to include a requirement that Section 8 program administrators like SHA make reasonable accommodation…it can amend the SMC accordingly.’ This legislation is in direct response to the case and makes two significant changes to the SMC.

“First, CB 119316 separates the obligation — of, in this instance SHA — to provide reasonable accommodations from the obligation to provide reasonable modifications. Second, the legislation amends the SMC by revising the responsible party for permitting reasonable modifications from ‘landlord’ to ‘person’, thereby ensuring that anyone who can grant a reasonable accommodation is covered by the law, not just landlords.

“Moving forward, City law will require SHA and any other voucher program administrator to provide reasonable modifications to persons with disabilities as appropriate.  Above all, today’s vote both balances the perspectives of both landlord and tenant, and restates the importance of fair housing practices to both promote and ensure the availability and accessibility of housing to all.

“We can all agree — tenants and landlords alike — that accommodations may be necessary to afford people with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy any dwelling. Alternatively, to refuse to allow a person to make alterations or additions to existing premises occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability which are necessary to make the rental property accessible by people with disabilities, is unfair.”

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