There's no need to feel intimidated by regulations for working with disabled tenants. With some commonsense application of the rules, you can expand your available tenant pool while complying with requirements. Working with renters who may be disabled is easy, as long as you keep a few things in mind.

Start with the Application
From the beginning, it's important to know that it's against the law to ask discriminatory questions in regard to an obvious disability or questions that may be framed to discover a disability. You cannot violate the Fair Housing Act by acting in a way that could be construed as discriminatory against a potential client. You can inquire about a disability if you are offering discounts or special arrangements to help make accommodations. In short, if your inquiries to gain knowledge about a person's handicap are meant to provide increased access to housing instead of denying it, that's allowed.

Make Reasonable Accommodations
A person with a disability who applies to rent your property and meets all the requirements asked of every applicant has just as much right to be accepted as your new tenant as anyone else. Such individuals also have the right to request reasonable accommodations that would assist them in their daily lives. These might include changes to rules for common areas, a parking space large enough for a wheelchair-equipped vehicle, or adjustments to the rent payment rules. Say, for example, you normally have clients drop the rent off at your office. A reasonable accommodation would be allowing a disabled tenant to mail it in.

Modifying the Structure
If changes are needed to the rental unit itself, different rules come into play. Modifications that would be considered reasonable include installing handrails in bathrooms or wheelchair ramps at entrances. Usually, in newer multifamily structures, these changes are done at the landlord's expense, but at most smaller properties, the resident would have to pay. You cannot refuse to make the modifications unless they would significantly alter the structure. If you have a home that you will be putting on the market, it's not a bad idea to look at a few upgrades that can make your rental more attractive to potential tenants who might be disabled, even if you aren't required to do so.

When it's OK to Ask for Verification
If a potential renter's disability is obvious, you should not ask any questions meant to determine if the prospective tenant will need accommodations or modifications. If the disability is not obvious, you do have the right to ask for some kind of proof of disability, as long as the questions are only meant to determine eligibility and requirements. Make it your rule of thumb to never ask questions that could be construed as discriminatory, and you will be just fine. If your prospective tenant appears disabled, do not treat him or her any differently than anyone else. If the applicant claims to have a disability and asks for something from you, it's fine to seek verification.

Lease Termination
In general, the rules for lease termination are the same for disabled tenants as for any other tenant, with one notable exception. If a person who is renting from you becomes disabled and the property cannot be easily modified to accommodate the new disability, the tenant is legally allowed to break the lease without any penalty.
In summary, it's fairly easy to comply with your duties as a landlord when it comes to renting to persons with disabilities. Just look at all people as potential renters, regardless of any disabilities, and keep the process fair.

POSTED May 28 2015 10:00 AM

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