Frederic White

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Fordham Urban Law Journal




Over the past fifty years, America has steadily deinstitutionalized its mentally handicapped population, often with mixed results. The primary goal of this process was to place these long-forgotten people back into the so-called mainstream of American life, allowing them access to the same kinds of advantages schools, jobs, housing-that most of us take for granted. This road has not always been easy. In particular, providing safe and accessible housing for the mentally handicapped is an important step toward establishing meaningful self-sufficiency for these individuals. However, to ensure that the needs of all tenants are fulfilled, several potential conflicts between the mentally handicapped tenant and other tenants must be resolved. This article will explore the serious potential for a clash between two sets of values: (1) the stated values of the Act, that persons handicapped within its terms should not be denied access to decent housing on that account, and that mentally handicapped tenants, especially those who may have, but do not necessarily possess, a propensity for violence, have privacy rights; and (2) the landlord's responsibilities with respect to the safety needs of other tenants. To answer these questions, I will address a number of policies, including those embodied in federal and state statutes relating to the rights of mentally handicapped persons. In particular, I will analyze policies underlying the Fair Housing Amendments Act that seek to enable mentally handicapped persons to select decent housing and require landlords to "reasonably accommodate" their needs. I will explore analogous cases involving reasonable accommodation for handicapped persons under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, I will examine whether handicapped tenants have a right to privacy with respect to their handicap and whether that right is breached if the landlord informs other tenants of their condition. This article will conclude that a landlord's disclosure of a mentally handicapped tenant's disability, including a propensity toward violence under certain circumstances, to other tenants is unlawful because such disclosure violates the disabled person's right to evenhanded treatment under general property law principles, infringes upon the disabled person's privacy rights, and is an implicit violation of policies embodied in the Fair Housing Amendments Act.

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Fordham Law School

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