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Trying to leave meal plan

October 25, 2009|Martin Eichner | Project Sentinel

Question: I live in a senior citizens apartment complex where a mandatory meal plan is provided for $185 a month. However, I have recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol, and my doctor has told me it is imperative for my health that I be on a special diet. I no longer want to be on the meal plan.

The management set up a meeting with me where they gave me a form to opt out of the plan, but they said they want to meet with a nutritionist to discuss whether they can make a change in the meals that would meet my dietary requirements. My doctor believes that it would be best for me to be off the plan altogether so I can manage my diet according to my health needs. What are my rights?

Answer: If you have a condition in which your doctor recommends a certain alteration of your living circumstances, a landlord is required to make the change if it would constitute a reasonable accommodation. Failure to do so is considered discrimination on the basis of disability and violates fair housing laws.

In this case, the management has made it easier for you to assert that an alteration is reasonable, because they already have exemption forms that residents can use to remove themselves from the meal plan.

However, the reasonable accommodation process is an interactive approach in which you and your housing provider work together to find a reasonable alternative.

The provider can certainly request that a nutritionist review your dietary needs, in consultation with your doctor. If your doctor still insists that the alternatives resulting from the input of the nutritionist are not an acceptable medical choice and that exemption from the plan is the only feasible accommodation, you would be in a strong position to insist on that specific alteration.

-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service. To submit a question, go to

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