What Disabilities Are Protected By Federal Regulation?
As a landlord, you may encounter a disabled tenant or applicant at some point. These types of tenants have certain legal protections that you should take care to comply with to protect yourself from legal action or discrimination suits. That’s why you should be familiar with what disabilities actually fall under these protections and how to treat tenants with disabilities. You should also be familiar with disabilities that might not be immediately obvious to you. This guide will help you understand tenants with disabilities and how to protect yourself.
Which Disabilities Are Covered?
When most people think of a disability, they picture someone in a wheelchair, someone suffering from blindness, or someone missing a limb. While all of these are classic cases of a disability, the fact is that there are many conditions that can be classified as a disability under federal law.
You as a landlord may encounter a tenant or applicant who indicates that they have a disability to you, even though you may see no outward sign of a disability as you understand the term. This doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have a medically recognized disability, however. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) covers many types of disabilities, including
- Hearing and visual impairments
- Mobility problems
- Mental illness
- Alcoholism, as long as it’s treated through a recovery program
- Drug addiction to a legal drug
- Mental retardation
- A diagnosis of HIV or AIDS
There are also other types of disabilities that may fall under purview of the Fair Housing Act. Mental illness in particular can cover a broad range of illnesses. For example, a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or someone who has been diagnosed with depression would both qualify as disabled.
It’s important for you as a landlord to not inquire at any point about what type of disability your tenant has, how long they’ve had it, or ask to see medical records.
By directly inquiring about your tenant’s disability, you could be setting yourself up for a discrimination lawsuit. Of course, a tenant can volunteer this information without you asking, in which case you broke no law.
Properly Approaching Disabled Applicants
It’s also important to remember that you’re also not allowed to make a decision to accept an applicant based on a disability or treat a disabled applicant any differently than you would treat another applicant. You can still turn down a disabled applicant for the same reasons you would turn down other applicants: a bad credit score, a history of late payments in other rentals or insufficient income are all legitimate reasons to refuse an applicant.
Your Rights as a Landlord
You do have some rights as a landlord when it comes to disabled tenants. For example, you can request proof from a physician or other medical provider that a tenant has a medically recognized disability, but only if they are asking for a modification to their apartment to accommodate their disability or requesting a service animal.
If a tenant is being disruptive, harms others or destroys property, their disability does not excuse their actions. In such circumstances, you may seek to evict a tenant even if their disability prompted certain behaviors that represent a threat or put an undue burden on you or other tenants.
Ultimately, it’s important to understand that there are many types of disabilities that are covered under the Fair Housing Act that you need to treat disabled applicants as you would other applicants and tenants. With the above information, you should have a better understanding of disabled tenants and what a disability constitutes, even if the disability is not immediately obvious to you.
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