Tenants with Disabilities

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 61 million adults in the US live with some type of disability. This can cover a wide range of both visible and invisible conditions including issues with mobility, vision or hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, and more. Whatever kind of disability an individual copes with, they will be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if they’re applying for your rental, they’ll be considered a Protected Class under the Fair Housing Act. You will need to make sure that you understand what is expected of you as a landlord or property manager to ensure that you’re following the law.

Let’s start with the basics.

The Do’s and Don’ts

Odds are that you won’t actively try to discriminate against an individual with disabilities that is applying for your rental property, but that doesn’t mean that your actions can’t be viewed as discriminatory in the eyes of the law. The best way to make sure that everything is being handled fairly is to brush up on the do’s and the don’ts of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act as they pertain to both rental applicants and current tenants.

In general, you’ll treat a tenant with disabilities as you would any able-bodied tenant. The exception to that could be if they put in a request for special accommodations. If they do, here are a few things that you, as the landlord or property manager, may do to cover yourself: 

1. If the tenant’s disability is not clear, ask for proof.

There are times when you may find that your new tenant’s disability is not readily visible, and in those cases you can verify the disability in a couple of ways: 

  • Proof of supplemental security income or social security disability insurance
  • Information or a statement by a doctor, medical professional, peer support group, or a reliable third party

If the disability is obvious (such as an individual using a wheelchair for mobility issues), you should not ask for proof. 

2. If your tenant intends to make physical alterations to the rental, make sure that they know to provide you with proper notice.

3. Ask for the required permits (if needed) to be obtained for any alterations made and that any construction should be performed by a licensed and bonded professional.

Here are a couple of things you shouldn’t do while working with tenants that have disabilities:

  1. Ask someone details about their disability. 

While you may need to request certain documentation or verify if something is there to help with the tenant’s disability (don’t worry, more on this later!), you should never ask for details about the individual’s disability. Not only can your curiosity come off as rude, it can easily be flagged as discriminatory if the tenant chooses to pursue that.

2. Deny someone or alter the terms of the lease because of their disability.

A tenant is allowed to make reasonable requests for accommodating their disability. If they are otherwise qualified for your rental you cannot deny them based on that request. We’ll go over what is considered a reasonable request below.

What is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

The kind of requests that you may receive from a tenant with disabilities could range from a slight adjustment in your policies to physically altering your rental property and everything in between. In general, a reasonable accommodation should be something that doesn’t cause a financial burden to the landlord.

Here are a few examples of requests that you may see:

  1. Preferred parking and/or a ground floor apartment in a multi-family property –

Tenants with mobility issues may require closer parking, parking spots that can accommodate a wheelchair, or ground floor access to their rental home. As long as you have these options available without kicking another tenant out of their spot, these are requests that would be considered reasonable in most cases, as they shouldn’t put a financial burden on you. 

An example of an unreasonable request would be to ask that you remove another tenant from a ground floor rental so that they may rent the unit or ask that you install a private elevator so that they can access a top floor unit.

  1. The ability to mail their rent payment –

A variety of disabilities may make it cumbersome for a tenant to get to an office and physically hand you their rent check every month. With the increased ease of accepting rent through online portals or having your tenant mail the check in each month, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to find an option that works for all parties involved.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if your tenant asked you to accept only part of the rent. As with any other tenant that has signed a lease for your rental property, a tenant with disabilities is not exempt from full, on-time rent payments.

  1. Allowing a service animal into a rental that otherwise wouldn’t allow animals.

A service animal (we have more on this subject below) is not considered a pet and should not be treated as such. Even if you have a no pet policy for your rental, you will need to allow an exception for a service animal.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if your tenant’s service animal caused damage to the rental or has a proven track record of violence. 

A more complicated request will be if a tenant asks to physically alter your rental. What they are wanting to alter will go a long way in deciding who is responsible for the alterations and how to proceed with the request. A few examples of what a request like this may include would be:

  • adding railings throughout the home to help with mobility
  • installing ramps to provide wheelchair access 
  • lowering cabinets to provide better access

You will want to check your local laws to see if there are any details for your specific situation, but in general the tenant will be responsible for more expensive alterations. In many cases, they may need to put money into an interest-building escrow account so that the rental may be returned to its original state when they move out.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if a tenant had a temporary disability such as a broken leg and asked to make major modifications to the property. 

Service Animals

Many individuals living with a disability are assisted by a service animal. These animals are treated as a medical aid and their use is protected under the law. It’s important to understand that a true service animal is not a pet and should not be treated as one. This means that you cannot deny a qualified tenant with a service animal because of a no pet policy in your rental. You also will not be able to charge any fees such as a pet deposit or pet rent to cover the animal’s stay.

A growing concern among landlords has been if the tenant’s animal is truly a service animal or what is often called a support animal. Support animals can also be called therapy, comfort, or companion animals, and there are differences between the two classifications.

A service animal (typically a dog) is protected by the ADA and is defined as “trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” This training may be done through a professional organization or at home, but training is a key requirement for a service animal. Examples of tasks they may have been trained to do are:

  • Assist a visually impared individual (often referred to as a seeing eye dog)
  • Detect ailments such as low/high blood sugar, seizures, panic attacks, etc etc…
  • Remind an individual to take medication

A support, therapy, comfort, or companion animal is not considered the same as a service animal under the ADA. While they may help an individual with a disability, the key difference between them and a protected service animal is that the support animal has not received training. They provide help by simply being there for the person rather than performing specific tasks. 

While these types of animals are not protected by federal law, you will want to check your local laws before denying a tenant with a support animal outright. If you are uncertain about an animal that a tenant claims should be allowed into the rental without fee under the ADA, you may ask two questions to confirm that it is a service animal:

  1. Is the service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the service animal been trained to perform?

That’s it. You should not request to see documentation for the animal, ask to see the animal perform a specific task, or question the individual about their disability. 

A few additional things to be aware of on the topic of service animals:

  • Any breed of dog may be trained as a service animal. You may not deny an applicant based on the breed of their service animal. The animal must have a proven record of aggressive or dangerous behavior to deny them.
  • Service animals are not protected by the ADA until they have been fully trained.
  • While service animals often wear a vest or other identifying marker, the ADA does not require that they do so.
  • The ADA does not require documentation that the dog has been trained as a service animal.
  • The ADA does not exempt service animals from required vaccinations. 

Conclusion

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed if you haven’t had prior experience with the Americans with Disabilities Act or its corresponding sections of the Fair Housing Act. It’s important to remember that these laws were designed to allow individuals with a variety of disabilities the same access as their able-bodied neighbors, not to trip you up as a landlord or property manager. 

Make sure you follow the above recommendations and that you stay current on changes to both local and federal laws so that you may adjust your policies as needed. If in doubt, seek legal advice. It will always be better to verify rather than find yourself on the wrong side of a discrimination lawsuit. 

Frequently Asked Questions During COVID-19 for Landlords

During this time, we wanted to provide you with a collection of the most frequently asked questions we’ve seen on our media platforms. Below are the answers we’ve found along with some sources. We hope this helps you.

How do we know if landlords are affected by the eviction halts?

  • “Section 4024 of the CARES Act provides a temporary moratorium on eviction filings as well as other protections for tenants in certain rental properties with federal assistance or federally related financing.”  [source]
  • “CARES Act Section 4024(b) prohibits landlords of certain rental “covered dwellings” from initiating eviction proceedings or “charg[ing] fees, penalties, or other charges” against a tenant for the nonpayment of rent. These protections extend for 120 days from enactment (March 27, 2020)” [source]
  • Details on exactly what properties would be covered can be found here: [source]

How are cities and states affected?

Where can you go to find find these details?

What is considered a ‘covered property’?

  • Under a federally backed mortgage loan or “that ‘participate in’ a ‘covered housing program’ [source]

Does the CARES Act protect landlords in any way?

  • “Little relief has come from the federal government. The CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last week, gives homeowners with federally backed loans two types of financial relief: It blocks foreclosure proceedings for at least 60 days and allows homeowners to defer mortgage payments for 180 days.” [source]
  • There is some mortgage relief. Good article with additional resources in it as well [source]

Can landlords raise rent on tenants during this time?

  • Some cities and states have put rent freezes into place. [source]

Can a landlord charge late fees during this time?

  • If the tenant lives in a ‘cover dwelling’ landlords may not charge late fees during this time [source

Should landlords accept partial payments during this time?

  • Really nice advice over on BiggerPockets about Emergency Rent Deferral Plans [source]

Do tenants have to provide proof that they cannot pay due to Covid? If so, what kind of proof?

  • Some states do require proof that the tenant cannot pay because of Covid [source]

What can landlords do to protect themselves from nonpayment during this time?

  • Deferral plans
  • Partial payments
    • “In normal times, if a tenant offered $700 when they owed $1,000, we’d tell members, don’t accept it. But now, we’re saying, have them pay later, or amortize it over six months.” – Jeff Cronrod, American Apartment Owners Association [source]
  • General communication

If a tenant has a history of late payments, can they be evicted?

  • Some cities/states have put a full hold on evictions and other non-emergency legal matters.

If a tenant breaks their lease in some other way that has nothing to do with Covid, can they be evicted?

  • In many cases, all non-emergency hearings have been halted.

Can you/should  you start the eviction process so that you can submit the paperwork as soon as the memorandums have been lifted?

  • In California, the notice may be delivered but the tenant cannot be removed and there will be no automatic judgement until 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted by the governor [source]

If a tenant is on a month-to-month lease, can you not renew?

  • In many cases, until this is lifted, you would have no way to force them to leave.

Will landlords be able to evict after this ends for money owed during Covid?

  • According to this article, yes [source]

Things NOT to do as a landlord, even if tenant isn’t/can’t pay:

  • Cut off utilities
  • Lock tenants out of property
  • Force them out by removing their possessions or the door to the rental [source]
  • Harass tenant

The commonality we found from most articles in regard to this current state of the world showed that even if the eviction isn’t due to Cover, non-emergency hearings may have been paused for a time. While there is a federal law in place, many states/cities have more detailed ones. Always make sure to check your local laws. As of now, tenants will still be responsible for the rent owed, even if they cannot be evicted at this time. Details for that will depend on state/county/city.

Another resource with tips and advice, you should click here.

We hope you and your communities stay safe and healthy throughout this difficult time.

How to Evict Tenants in Philadelphia

Landlords don’t need an attorney to evict in Philadelphia, but it’s important that they follow the laws of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 outlines both landlord and tenant responsibilities. Pennsylvania laws require the landlord to issue a formal notice asking the tenant to leave the unit. If the tenant refuses or believes that the request is not legal, the parties will have to go to court.

Writing a Notice to Vacate
Before landlords can file legal paperwork with the courts, they must issue a Notice to Vacate that requests that they leave the property. The notice must include the following information:

  • The requested date of vacancy    
  • The date the notice was issued
  • The name and address of the tenants
  • The name of the owner
  • The reason that the notice to vacate is being issued
  • If past rent is due, the total amount of rent and other fees, how to pay the total amount, and the last day that the total amount of rent must be paid
  • A statement indicating that the tenant must pay rent, or meet the terms of the lease, or move out during the specified time period
  • How the notice was delivered to the tenant (by mail or posted on the rental property)
  • That the landlord may proceed with legal action if the reason stated in the Notice to Vacate is not addressed or the tenant does not move

If issuing a notice to vacate due to unpaid rent or utilities, a landlord must give the tenant at least 10 days to leave the property. If the landlord wants the tenant to leave because the tenant has violated other terms of the lease, 15 days is legally required for leases that are one year or less. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 also specifies in Article V that 30 days notice is required for leases that are drafted to be more than one year in length. Landlords should also check their lease, since some specify that the tenant must have a period of notice that is longer than 10 or 15 days. In these cases, the landlord must follow the terms of the lease.

Filing a Complaint
If the tenant does not leave by the date on the Notice to Vacate, the landlord must file an Eviction Complaint with the court system and pay a fee. They must also mail a copy of the complaint to the tenant or post a copy at the rental property.
Once the complaint is received, the court will notify the tenant of the complaint and schedule hearing before the Magisterial District Justice. When the tenant receives the complaint notice, he must write to the court and explain the defense he intends to use to fight the eviction. The court will also schedule a hearing date. Both the tenant and landlord must appear during the hearing date or risk losing the case. At the end of the hearing, the judge will either order the tenant to leave the property and pay back rent or deny the landlord’s claims.

Appealing the Court’s Decision
Tenants who lose the initial court case may appeal within 10 days to a higher court. However, if they intend to stay at the rental property, they must pay the lesser amount of the judgment issued against them or three months rent. If they lose this appeal, the tenant must leave.

Finishing the Eviction Process
With a favorable court decision in hand, the landlord can file a Writ of Possession if the tenant has not left the property after 10 days. The sheriff’s office will enforce the eviction 11 days after the writ has been given to the tenant.

Avoiding Illegal Eviction Rulings
Even if the tenant is not paying rent, a landlord cannot change the locks to a rental property, shut off utilities, or attempt to force the tenant out of the property through non-legal means. Landlords who use these tactics may have their eviction cases dismissed and may even owe damages to the tenant they seek to evict.
For a successful eviction, it’s essential that landlords follow the Pennsylvania landlord tenant act and issue a valid Notice to Vacate before using legal recourse. If the Notice to Vacate doesn’t work, the landlord should file an Eviction Complaint. After the complaint has been filed, the court system will commit to issuing a fair ruling and involving the sheriff’s office when warranted.

How to Legally Evict in Atlanta

Atlanta landlords who need to evict a tenant must follow the laws of Fulton County. Evictions can be conducted in less than 30 days, but they must be addressed through the court system. The landlord begins the eviction process by filing paperwork asking for a court order. If it is granted, the marshal’s office will then help the landlord regain control of the rental property.

Three Reasons for Eviction
Landlords can legally evict under the following circumstances:

  1. The tenant has not paid rent as it becomes due.
  2. The tenant is still living at a property even though the lease has expired.
  3. The rental property is part of a foreclosure sale.

Starting the Eviction Process
To start the eviction process, the landlord must file an original form and three copies at the Magistrate Court office or the Dispossessory Office at the Justice Center Tower. The forms can be found on the Fulton County website or obtained at either filing office. The landlord should also expect to pay a filing fee, which is determined by the number of tenants being evicted.
Landlords who cannot afford the filing fees can file an Affidavit of Indigence, which is a form that asks the court to waive the filing fees due to financial difficulties. A judge will use the information about the landlord’s income and expenses to decide if the landlord meets the low-income requirements.
Once the forms have been filed, an eviction warrant will be issued by the court. An officer from the Fulton County Marshal’s Office will tack a notice of eviction onto the rental property and send another copy of the eviction by mail. If requested, the marshal may deliver the eviction notice directly to the tenant or give the notice to someone of legal age who resides on the property.

Waiting for an Eviction Response
Tenants have seven days to contest the warrant. To legally dispute eviction, the tenant must file an answer with the court. If the eviction is contested, the Fulton County court system will schedule a court date at least seven days after the answer has been filed. If the tenant does not file a dispute with the court, the eviction will proceed.

Answering a Contested Warrant
If the warrant is contested, the tenant and landlord will meet in court and discuss their disagreement before a judge. Landlords should bring a copy of the lease and other proof that the tenant has not followed the agreement to the court hearing. Sometimes formal mediation is used for the landlord and tenant to reach an agreement. If the tenant believes that the landlord has not met his legal responsibilities, the tenant can also choose to counter-sue during the same court case.

Executing a Writ of Possession
If the tenant loses the court case or does not file to contest the eviction warrant, the landlord should file paperwork at the courthouse to ask for a Writ of Possession. This court order gives the landlord the legal standing to work with the marshal’s office and evict the tenant.

Landlords should not accept back rent payments at this time unless they are willing to forgo the eviction process. Once the eviction is completed, the landlord can try to recuperate back rent through a collection agency or civil suit.
Once the Writ of Possession application has been processed, the marshal’s office will contact the landlord. The landlord can then schedule a day and time for the eviction. The marshal will be present during the eviction, but the landlord must arrange for any necessary labor to move the tenant’s possessions out of the rental unit.

If the eviction is not contested, most landlords can evict their tenants within 30 days. The key to an expedient eviction is to file the necessary forms with the court immediately and be prepared with a copy of the lease, canceled checks and other supporting documentation in case the eviction is contested. Even if the landlord is having financial difficulties, an Affidavit of Indigence and free legal help from legal aid should make the process accessible.

Please note: These articles are for informational purposes and we advise you to consult an attorney for more specific information related to your situation.

How The Legal System Helps When Tenants Skip Out On Rent

When a former tenant disappears while owing you money, there are a couple of things you need to do before you can collect on the debt: find out where they live and get the court to issue a money judgment against them. Once you’ve obtained the new address and a money judgment, you’re in a much better position to take action and collect what is owed. The legal system provides several solutions for landlords trying to collect unpaid debts from their tenants, including these four options:

1. File an Abstract of Judgment
Even if you win a lawsuit against a deadbeat tenant, it can be tough actually collecting the money that is owed to you. Sometimes, the only way to get a former tenant to pay up is by filing an “Abstract of Judgment” at the office of your county recorder. This abstract briefly summarizes the judgment you’ve won against the tenant and places a lien on any current or future real estate they may own in the area. A lien will get the tenant’s attention and possibly persuade them to settle the debt.

2. Report to the Credit Bureaus
Eventually, your former tenant will want to lease a new rental property, obtain a car loan or get approved for a mortgage. Report this unpaid debt with the three major credit bureaus; a red flag will appear on the tenant’s credit report, which can greatly impact their ability to get any type of credit down the road. The debt will appear as a collection account on his credit report and lower his credit score. Plus, this red flag on his credit report will serve as a warning to other landlords in the future when he tries to rent from them.

Since a low credit score will reduce the tenant’s ability to rent or purchase other property in the future, his only option may be to settle his debt with you or at least set up a payment plan to get the red flag removed from his credit report.

3. Garnish Wages
Once a money judgment has been issued against the tenant, you can file a motion to have his wages garnished in order to collect the money that is owed to you. The court will order the tenant’s employer to withhold a certain amount of money from every paycheck until the debt is paid off. With a wage garnishment, federal law allows you to collect the lesser of these two:

  • Up to 25 percent of your former tenant’s disposable income, or
  • The amount that his income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage.

The tenant’s disposable income is established by subtracting certain deductions from his total paycheck. A legal professional can provide you with the exact deductions used for this calculation.

4. File a Bank Account Levy
Another way to collect on a money judgment issued against your former tenant is by filing for a bank account levy with the court. A levy requires the bank to remove money from the tenant’s checking account in order to settle the debt. If there are not enough funds in the bank account to pay off the debt, the bank will empty his account and send whatever funds are available.

Although you could theoretically file another bank account levy against the tenant in the future to collect the remaining balance owed, don’t be surprised if the tenant closes the account to avoid your collection efforts.
Keep in mind you must have the former tenant’s checking account information to obtain a levy. This shouldn’t be a problem if you kept copies of the checks he used to pay rent during his tenancy, just as long as the account is still open. However, if the tenant closes the account and opens a new one, it may be impossible to obtain information about the new account.

When a Tenant Tries to Sue a Landlord for Negligence; What to Know, and How to Prevent

Suing a landlord for negligence is a long and difficult-to-prove legal process. Negligence on the part of landlords and property managers is basically defined as a failure to conduct prompt inspections, repairs, or maintenance in a property and/or building. If a tenant can show that a landlord or property manager willfully failed to carry out his rental agreement with his tenant,” then he or she is guilty of negligence. However, being sued for negligence is dependent on many factors, and the information below can shed a little light on this type of landlord lawsuit.

What are the Elements of Negligence?

  • Duty: Every landlord and property manager has a duty to keep a residence habitable and livable for their tenants. The “duty” part of a negligence lawsuit simply is the legal requirement and standard of conduct in protecting tenants from unreasonable risk of harm.
  • Breach of duty: This second element of a negligence lawsuit is when the person being sued violates their duty. With regard to landlord negligence, a breach of duty would relate to any contract or rent violation. For example, if a tenant complains about a leaky pipe under their sink, and the landlord/property manager has a duty under the rental lease or contract to fix any and all leaks, the leak must be fixed. If the landlord fails to do this, it is a breach of duty on the part of the landlord or property manager.
  • Causation: Simply put, “causation” is when a breach of duty on the landlord/property manager’s part causes damage to either the tenant or their home/property. With regard to the above example, if the landlord being sued for negligence fails to repair the leaky pipe, and the water from the leaky pipe then damages the floors or other area of the tenant’s property, there is causation in the negligence lawsuit.
  • Damages: This part of the lawsuit is pretty self-explanatory, but can sometimes be the hardest to prove. The “damages” element involves whatever damages the complainant seeks against the landlord. There are several types of damages: compensatory, general, special, nominal, and punitive.

What Else Do Landlords Need to Know About Negligence Lawsuits?
Because landlord-tenant laws and negligence laws that are specific to landlords vary by state and sometimes even by city, many landlords and property managers don’t know much about the process or how they can protect themselves from such a damaging and expensive lawsuit. Here are a few things to know and keep in mind regarding landlord negligence lawsuits:

  • Property damage isn’t the only type of damage that landlords can get sued for. If a landlord or property manager does not report suspicious activity to their tenants or the police, or they fail to repair outside lighting or security features, he or she can potentially be sued for negligence — especially if a burglary occurs.
  • Landlords and property managers always need to make sure they have insurance for their property. Not only does a landlord need homeowners insurance, but in some cases they’ll need landlords insurance as well. Check with state and city laws on whether two separate policies are needed.
  • One of the best ways to prevent a negligence lawsuit is to repair all tenant property complaints and/or dangerous conditions as soon as possible, and to make it a priority to conduct annual inspections. Landlords have a responsibility and duty to their tenants to ensure the property is livable, safe, and free from any dangers.