Apartment Living BlogApartment Living › Dear Fair Housing Lady – Maintenance Requests

I am a Maintenance Supervisor and recently I had a discussion with a colleague at another property.  He got in trouble when he told a resident that there were several work orders in front of hers and that she would have to wait to have her problem fixed.  He said he was told this was a “Fair Housing matter” but I just don’t get it.  At our community we have a first come/first served policy and as long as we follow that with everybody, shouldn’t we be OK?


Stan the Man in Maintenance

Dear Stan the Man,

First, let me say that it is really cool to get a question from someone in the maintenance part of our business.  Fair housing is not just for the “front office.”  And believe it or not, the issue you raise with your question is in fact a fair housing issue.

Apartment residents have come to expect timely and efficient responses to their work order requests.  And those expectations are appropriate – having someone take care of maintenance issues in their apartments is a significant benefit of renting that residents are in fact paying for (or at least we hope they are paying!).   Communities generally have great policies and procedures in place for their maintenance professionals to meet these expectations.  An industry standard is that if it is not an emergency (no fire – no flood – no blood!), then work orders are prioritized “first come, first served” as you have pointed out.  While this standard is generally OK, there are times however when it cannot be applied.  And that would be when fair housing comes in to play.  So, when must work orders be re-prioritized?  Not for the whiny resident (assuming that you would ever have one of those!), but most likely for the resident with disabilities, because, of course, people with disabilities are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.  If, because of a disability, a resident needs a work order handled ASAP, pronto, on-the-double, then it needs to be addressed ASAP, pronto, on-the-double.  Here are two examples to consider:  (1) You are in a hot, steamy climate; it is July; 5 air conditioners are on the fritz.  Resident #6 calls in to report that their A/C is out, too.  You tell them that you will fix it, but they are sixth on the list.  Then they say, “But I am the resident with emphysema and the heat and humidity are making it difficult for me to breathe.”  Guess what? This is a request for a reasonable accommodation made by a resident who has just disclosed their disability to you.  And guess what else?  They are now #1 on the A/C repair list because they have a need based on disability.  (2) You have a waiting list for landlord-provided microwaves.  A new resident moves in and asks for a microwave.  You tell them they are being added to the list.  Then they tell you that their physical challenges make it difficult if not impossible to use the stove.  Guess what? This is a request for a reasonable accommodation made by a resident and once again, they move to the top of the list.   One more tidbit – “please” and “thank you” may be magic words; you don’t give your little ones cookies unless they say them.  But there are no fair housing magic words required before you give reasonable accommodation to your residents with disabilities.  They do not have to say “reasonable accommodation” (it is not like abracadabra although many letters are shared); they need only express a need based on a disability (and you do not get to inquire into the nature or extent of that disability, by the way).  So be sure that you know how to properly respond when it has to be “last come, first served” under the Fair Housing Act

Hope this clears things up a bit for you Mr. The Man.  And thanks for asking.


Fair Housing Lady

Fair Housing Lady is the alter-ego of Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions™.  While that makes her our attorney, she is not yours, so her information is not legal advice for you.  She would love to have your questions for future newsletter appearances (so she doesn’t have to make the questions up, which is just extra work), so send them to [email protected].

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Nadeen Green is the senior legal counsel for For Rent Media Solutions. She has been an attorney and has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry for decades, presenting more than 1,150 programs to management companies and apartment associations nationwide, including the National Apartment Association, IREM and AIM. Her reader-friendly articles and guest blogs appear regularly in publications and on websites, and she blogs as Fair Housing Lady at http://fairhousing.forrent.com/. Nadeen lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, Ned.



  1. EVERYONE in my building suddenly has breathing issues or a disability when it comes to getting moved up on the mainenace list.(our maintenace orders are always taken care of within one day) How do I absolutely KNOW an individual has a disability? How is that they never have to provide documentation of a disability but as a Property Manager I have to rearrange my maintenace service priority to accumodate the guy with a sudden breathing ailment just because he tells me he has an ailment?

  2. Nadeen Green says:

    More than one question to answer for you here; Fair Housing Lady will do her absolute best. If a resident raises a first-time and unexpected maintenance request for reasonable accommodation (such as prioritization), wisdom would dictate that the accommodation be granted. Going forward, should you as a reasonable person (I am assuming you are that!) not be able to see the disability and/or the need for what is being asked of you, you are in fact able to require documentation that a disability exists. You cannot, however, ask what the disability is (the nature of the disability) or how severe it may be (the extent of the disability). Many of your colleagues are using a Request for Reasonable Accommodation form with 3 essential questions to be answered by a health care provider for the person (doctor, physical therapist, social worker, psychologist, etc.). The essence of the questions (and please get your counsel to articulate the questions for you properly!) are (1) is this person disabled as defined under the Fair Housing Act; (2) this person is asking that we XXXXXXXXXX/ is this needed because of such a disability; and (3) would you agree to testify to this if asked in any formal proceeding. Three yeses = do as asked! Of course, you wouldn’t require the form for a person who uses a portable oxygen tank because – duh – that person obviously is impacted in their ability to breath. Hope this helps; it is not legal advice because FHL doesn’t ever, ever give that to you…

  3. Hopefully I can add a little more about the standard that generally applies to management. Any time you do something, that includes you and your agents, you must act in a reasonable manner. The next question is ‘what does that mean?’ fair enough. It has been further defined as considering the probability of injury and the extent of the possible injury compared to the cost and effort to eliminate the injury.

    Let’s apply this to a real world scenario. Every once in a while one of the sprinkler heads that water the landscaping on the grounds of your complex gets broken off. Water gets thrown on the walkways, the walkways are normal concrete paths. As soon as you learn of the problem you have it fixed. One day a lady who likes to walk her dogs at 5:00 a.m., slips when she steps on a wet patch of walkway. The sprinkler was working fine the day before. Have you acted reasonably? It is very likely that you have acted reasonably. What is the probability of injury? You could say that injury or loss is relatively high at around 30% chance that someone will slip on the wet surface. What is the likely injury? Well it’s probably not death, more like a broken hip, while none of us want a broken hip, it’s far better than death.

    Next you ask, how difficult or expensive would it be to prevent the injury? In this case your alternative to fixing it as soon as you learn of it, would be to hire a 24 hour sprinkler monitor, that is not reasonable for something that only happens every other month and even then doesn’t always result in loss or injury. Another alternative is to build some super strong, and super engineered sprinkler heads that would never break, even if they were run over by a lawn mower or car. That would be extremely costly specially when you consider that there are hundreds, if not thousands of sprinkler heads at an average complex.

    As long as you tried to repair the sprinkler heads as soon as you learned that they were damaged, you should be ok. The same analysis applies to everything you do while managing or owning a rental, with that being said there are some special situations where the above standard might not be enough, however those situations are rare and the exception rather than the rule.

    I am an attorney, licensed to practice law in California, however the above information is intended as general information and not an agreement to represent or legal advice.


  5. Martha Zaragoza says:

    Dear Fair Housing Lady: I moved into this apartment complex mid April & immediately noticed roaches! I now found out that all the tenants in the building I reside has had them for quite some time but nothing has been done. When I called corporate and asked them to fumigate the entire building I was sent a letter to sign via email giving me an option to move out by July 31 with a full security refund & are foregoing the 30 day notice. Should I call public health? Please advise.

    • I am both flattered and honored that you would reach out to Fair Housing Lady and ask for some advice and input on the situation you have with your new apartment home. However, I try hard not to tell others what they need to do (unless of course it is my husband – I excel at telling him what to do), particularly when the various choices are very personal. If you are truly unhappy with the apartment then you have been given a rare opportunity by a landlord to escape the lease without losing your security deposit. On the other hand, moving is a hassle. You could call the health department, but if they do not agree with you that there is a health problem, you might then lose the opportunity to relocate. I am a great fan of the legal pad (even in this time of technology). Write down all your options and the good, bad and ugly possible results for each of them. Weigh the factors and make the decision that is best for you. And I would suggest this is a good process not just for the roach problem you have today, but for all of the decisions that will come your way and need to be made in the future.

  6. Thanks for the share!

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