Have a Tenant with a Disability? Here's What You Can Do and What You Can't

When you are the landlord or property manager of rental properties, there are going to be times when members of the disabled community want to rent from you. When this happens, it's important to know that there are certain things you must and must not do.


Don't Ask About the Disability
When someone who is either physically or cognitively disabled fills out an application to rent one of your properties, you must treat the application the same as an application from an able-bodied person. If you reject the application, there has to be a reason for the rejection other than the person’s disability. Asking about the nature of the disability or the how the applicant became disabled is not something you are allowed to do; however, the person can offer this information voluntarily.


Do Make the Property Accessible to Disabled Tenants
If you have tenants who are disabled, it is your responsibility as the landlord to make sure you have modified the property so that they can safely navigate it. Reasonable modifications include:

  • Moving appliances so that tenants can easily reach them.
  • Installing indoor ramps and, in some cases, outdoor ramps.
  • Making doorways wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.
  • Installing safety bars.

It is important to note that while it doesn’t hurt to make any of these modifications, there are some situations where you might be able to avoid making alterations. Generally, though, this requires being able to prove that the changes would be very expensive and would make it difficult for you to continue to run your rental business.

Don't Prohibit Disabled Tenants From Altering Their Rental Units
When tenants have disabilities, the law does allow them to alter their living spaces in order to accommodate their disabilities, but the modifications have to be reasonable. Most states also require that such changes to the living space be paid for by the tenant rather than the landlord and that the tenant restore the property when moving out if the landlord believes that the changes will make it difficult to rent the space to a new tenant. Also, before making modifications, tenants must make sure they have gotten all necessary permits.


Do Allow Service Animals
Just because your property has a no-pets policy, you can’t forbid a disabled tenant from living with a service animal. However, the tenant will have to provide the appropriate paperwork to verify that the animal is necessary and that it is properly trained and certified to act as a service animal. The tenant can’t simply purchase a puppy and claim to be training it to be a service animal. You are not allowed to charge additional rent when a tenant has a service animal.


Don't Prohibit Someone Who Needs Full-Time Assistance From Having a Live-In Caretaker
There are some people who need to have a caretaker with them all the time. As a landlord, you have to allow such caregivers to live in the rental unit with the disabled tenants they are serving. However, as with a service animal, the tenant will have to provide proof that the caretaker is trained and necessary.
The laws regarding landlords' rights when dealing with disabled tenants are not always black and white. If you have any specific questions, you should contact your attorney for advice.

POSTED May 26 2015 1:53 PM
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