For landlords who encounter a tenant or applicant with a disability, it’s important to be familiar with federal and state law regarding housing and disabled persons. That means not only understanding what you can and can’t do in relation to disabled tenants, but also being familiar with what kind of modifications and allowances to your property you may be required to make if you have a disabled tenant. Here is the information you need to make sure you properly accommodate disabled tenants and avoid any legal issues that may arise.
The Basics Regarding Disabled Tenants
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is designed to protect disabled individuals from discrimination and will generally be the primary law that should concern you when you have a disabled tenant. You also may be wondering exactly what constitutes a disability. In general, a person who is disabled is considered someone with a mental or physical impairment that prohibits them from performing one or more essential life activities.
Modifications and Allowances
As a landlord, you are required by the FHA to make “reasonable accommodations” to disabled tenants at your own expense. This generally means that you may have to change policies and services in order to provide tenants with an equal opportunity to enjoy their apartment or dwelling; however, this doesn’t mean that you need to respond to every tenant request for changes to policies and services. For example, you don’t need to rip up an entire building to install an elevator in a three-story building, as this would be an unreasonable financial and operational burden to you.
It’s not always clear what an “undue burden” would constitute, but here are a few examples of when you would be required to make a modification or allowance:
- If you have an open parking lot for tenants, you may have to allow a reserved space for a disabled tenant if it makes it easier for him or her to reach their dwelling.
- You will likely have to pay for a sign-language interpreter for a deaf person during the rental application process in order to provide your applicant fair and equal access to housing.
- You would be required to allow a live-in aid to live with a disabled person who needs such services.
- If a disabled tenant with a mobility issue requests a move to first-floor apartment because they find it difficult to walk the stairs, you would be required to allow a move as long as you have a free apartment.
- If a tenant suffers from a chemical sensitivity and provides you with a doctor’s note that lists the various chemicals he or she is sensitive to, you may be required to stop using certain paints and pesticides on your property.
You may also be required to allow your tenant to make certain modifications within the apartment as long as these changes will not make an apartment difficult to rent later and as long as you’re in a financial position to restore your apartment once your tenant leaves.
All modifications must also be made with your prior approval. These changes could include modifying kitchen appliances for use by a blind tenant or installing special light switches, door handles, and faucets for a tenant who has difficulty using standard fixtures. You may also request that a tenant pays into an account to cover any potential restoration costs.
Ultimately, the FHA can be a complex and difficult law to fully understand and comply with. If you run into legal trouble or are unsure of how to proceed with a disabled tenant, it’s in your interest to speak with a legal expert in this particular area of the law to protect yourself and ensure you’re in full compliance.