What to Know When Renting with a Disability


When you have a disability and are looking for an accessible apartment, there are rules, laws and resources to help you get an apartment. Armed with the proper knowledge and understanding of what accessibility for people with disabilities means when it comes to accessible housing, you can ask the right questions when you begin your apartment search.

Who is considered a disabled person?

According to the National Network of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a person with a disability has one or more physical or mental impairments that include mobility, hearing, vision, or mental health issues that limit one or more activities of life. The definition also includes people who may have previously had a disability that they no longer have, called an impairment or disability record. All people with current or past disabilities are protected by federal law.

Laws relating to accessible housing and tenants with disabilities

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed. The law protects tenants and buyers from several categories of discrimination: race, color, national origin, sex, marital status and disability. The law is aimed at housing providers such as landlords and real estate companies to prevent these entities from not allowing you to rent or buy a home based on the criteria above.

As of 1991, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, new constructions of certain multi-family dwellings with four or more dwellings must include these characteristics: an accessible entrance, accessible common areas, doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible pathways throughout the dwelling, light switches and electrical outlets that a person in a wheelchair can access, and grab bars in the bathroom. In addition, the kitchen and bathroom should have a design that allows a wheelchair to move around.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Established in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination in all public places, including schools, jobs, public places, transportation, and private places open to the public. While the ADA protects against discrimination in public places, it does not necessarily cover residential housing like the Fair Housing Act does.

What are my rights as a disabled tenant?

The above laws allow you to rent without discrimination and to request an accessible apartment. The tenant has the right to request modifications to the apartment to meet his needs. If you have a service animal, the owner cannot refuse your animal. If the animal causes damage to the property, you, the renter, are responsible for paying for the damage.

An owner is not allowed to ask you what your handicap is. They may ask for proof that you have one, but you have the right not to disclose specific details about your disability.

Keep in mind that if you find an apartment that requires reasonable modifications such as ramps, grab bars, wheelchair accessible showers, modified counters, and accessible light switches and outlets, the owner is not required to pay for changes. You can negotiate with them and offer to pay, and if so, the owner has to comply and have the changes made.

Another thing to remember is that once you leave it is your responsibility to dismantle any changes made. You can negotiate with the landlord to see if they can help you financially, or maybe they will decide to keep the apartment as it is. Talk to the landlord and make sure all agreements are included in your lease.

What responsibilities and rights does my landlord have?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and landlords must obey the rules and laws of the law. In addition, owners of public buildings such as an apartment building or apartment complex must comply with the rules and laws established by the United States Disability Act (ADA).

Landlords who rent to people with disabilities have many of the same rights as any landlord. Unless otherwise specified, owners or property managers must receive payments on time and receive compensation for any damage the tenant may have suffered, not including modifications. As stated previously, the owner has the right to ask you to restore the apartment if any changes have been made.

What are reasonable modifications and accommodations?

If you are requesting modifications that involve structural changes to an apartment, the landlord must authorize them. Again, the tenant must pay for all changes, and the landlord may ask for proof of income that you, the tenant, can afford to have the changes removed.

Accommodation differs from modifications. Reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment in the rules, policies or services of the property. Asking the landlord for a parking space closer to your apartment is a reasonable solution. If you have a service animal and the apartment has a no-pet policy, the landlord should take the animal into account, changing the policy to accommodate you.

What types of questions can I ask the owner?

Being prepared when looking for an apartment will help streamline the process. Knowing your rights will help give you confidence when talking to the owner or property manager. Here is a list of reasonable and legal questions to ask your landlord:

  • Do you have accessible parking for people with disabilities?
  • Can the doors accommodate my wheelchair or are they at least 32 inches wide?
  • Are disabled accessible ramps available?
  • Do you have wheelchair accessible electrical outlets and light switches?
  • Can I open the doors with a handle or do they have buttons?
  • Can I access the thermostat from my wheelchair?
  • Is the shower wheelchair accessible and are there grab bars?
  • Can I move my wheelchair throughout the apartment, including the kitchen and the bathroom?
  • What are the heights of the counters?
  • How wide are the hallways in the apartment and public areas in the building?

What types of questions can the owner ask me?

Landlords cannot ask questions about the specifics of your disability or medical condition, proof of your disability, or even how or if your disability affects your life. The main reason that landlords are limited in the types of questions they can ask you is to prevent them from deciding to rent you based on your condition.

The owner can ask questions about the types of modifications or accommodations you might need. If your disability is not obvious, they may ask for proof before making the change, but you are not required to present proof. An example of a reasonable modification would be the addition of a wheelchair ramp or grab bars in the tub or shower.

However, if your disability is more mental or psychological or is not obvious, the owner may ask for proof or a note from your doctor that you have a disability. Again, the note does not have to explain the details of your disability, just that you do have one.

The owner is not allowed to ask the following types of questions:

  • What type of disability do you have?
  • Can I see or hear about your medical history?
  • Do you take medication?
  • Can you pay me on time, even with your disability?
  • Do you need your wheelchair to go to work?

If you are asked these kinds of questions, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

other considerations

Another thing to keep in mind when looking for accessible accommodation is the location of the building and its surroundings. Other things to consider include:

  • Are there public transit stops or transportation nearby?
  • Can I easily access the common area?
  • Do crosswalks have lights and sounds accessible to people with disabilities?
  • Are there restaurants or pharmacies that deliver to my location?
  • How far are basic services like a grocery store or pharmacy?
  • Can I easily negotiate the streets around people?
  • Do sidewalks have wheelchair ramps?

Once you have an understanding of tenant and landlord rights, have chosen a location that you can move into, and have asked the right questions, you can start shopping for the apartment that is right for you. budget and your lifestyle.

Ready to find your new home? Search thousands of apartments for rent on Zumper and find affordable homes that work for you.

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