Homes where people with disabilities live should not face requirements or conditions different from those where typically-developing individuals reside, according to new federal guidance.

In a 20-page question-and-answer document issued jointly this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are clarifying state and local government responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act when it comes to zoning and land use laws.

The guidance is an update to a similar document first released in 1999. While it touches on housing discrimination broadly, more than half of the questions addressed focus specifically on the rights of people with disabilities.

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The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination based on disability and that applies whether or not such individuals live in group home situations, the agencies said.

Local ordinances prohibiting group homes in single-family neighborhoods or limiting group homes for those with particular disabilities violate the law. Likewise, excluding people “based upon fear, speculation or stereotype about a particular disability or persons with disabilities in general” is not allowed, the guidance indicates.

States and municipalities may violate the law if they do not provide reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities “have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling,” the agencies said. This may mean bending rules on how many unrelated people may live together in a home, for example.

Nonetheless, the guidance acknowledges that there are legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons that communities might question the location of a group home such as increased demand for on-street parking in a neighborhood where parking is limited. In these situations, local officials must allow the group home to address the concerns and weigh whether other types of dwellings would be denied accommodations in similar circumstances.

“The Fair Housing Act helps protect open, free and integrated communities,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Government officials, housing providers and the general public need to understand how land use and zoning decisions can create barriers to equal housing opportunity. We hope this guidance will help communities make these decisions free from discrimination.”

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