Laws Mandate Accessible Housing for Persons with Disabilities

Published July 10, 2020

Finding accessible housing can be a challenge for people with disabilities. Studies show that accessible housing is un-affordable for many and discrimination against tenants with disabilities is still pervasive. Landlords should be aware of the following laws related to making housing accessible and providing equal access for all.

1. Many people are protected against housing discrimination

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted in 1968 and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in housing. The law makes it illegal to deny housing to anybody with a disability and allows for reasonable accommodations and modifications to be made to a dwelling. The FHA applies not only to landlords but mortgage lenders as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against people living with disabilities in areas including employment, education, transportation, and places of public accommodation. Although less expansive than the FHA, the ADA provides some protection for people with disabilities when looking for housing.

2. The landlord may not ask about a potential tenant’s disability

Under the FHA, it is illegal for a landlord to ask a potential tenant about their disability, or for proof of their disability. However, the landlord can ask whether a requested accommodation or modification is necessary, especially if the necessity is not obvious. The tenant may be required to produce documentation of the necessity, but this is strictly limited to proof of necessity, not to medical history or proof of disability.

3. The landlord must allow reasonable accommodations

The FHA requires that landlords allow reasonable accommodations and modifications for their tenants. Under the FHA, reasonable accommodations are defined as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service. Examples of reasonable accommodations include designating an accessible parking spot for the tenant, allowing for a service animal in buildings where animals are not allowed, or changing a payment schedule to accommodate the schedule of relief payments made to the tenant.

4. The landlord must allow reasonable modifications

The landlord must also allow for reasonable modifications to be made to the dwelling and to common or public use areas of the building. Reasonable modifications are often made at the cost of the tenant, and the tenant is responsible for removing the modification at the end of their rental agreement. Reasonable modifications include the construction of a ramp and installation of grab bars.

There are some cases where the landlord will be responsible for the cost of making reasonable modifications. Buildings that were constructed after March 13, 1991 are required to meet accessibility requirements under the FHA. If the building does not meet these requirements, the landlord will be responsible for the cost of making the necessary modifications. Furthermore, if the landlord owns a building that receives federal funds, they will be responsible for the cost of reasonable modifications requested by the tenant.

5. The ADA covers public access areas

The ADA requires that people with disabilities will have equal access to public areas of a landlord’s property. For example, the leasing office of an apartment building must be accessible. The burden of making these areas accessible lies solely on the landlord.

6. Landlords may deny some accommodations and modifications

Not all requests for accommodations and modifications will be granted. Landlords are allowed to deny requests when the request is not made by the person with the disability or by someone on their behalf, when there is no disability-related need for the accommodation or modification, or when making the accommodation or modification would impose an undue financial burden on the landlord or if it would fundamentally alter the nature of the landlord’s business.

This list is just a sample of what is required of landlords when renting to people with disabilities. Federal housing laws also apply to many other protected classes aside from disability. Failure to follow the law may result in fines and penalties, loss of business, and a potentially tarnished reputation. Making a building accessible is not just the law, but also a way to make a property more attractive to those with disabilities, families with young children, and the elderly.

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