What You Need to Know
If you are looking for accommodation to rent or already renting and you have a disability, you will want to make sure that you are aware of the laws and regulations that your landlord or property manager must follow. Learn about the rights of tenants with disabilities, what your landlord can and cannot ask of you, what constitutes a reasonable change, and how to find an accessible apartment.
What are the housing rights for people with disabilities?
Apartments and landlords are in most cases required to comply with the Fair Housing Act, which gives all tenants the same housing rights, regardless of their physical status, race, gender, religion. or their family situation. It prohibits discrimination based on these categories.
Under the Fair Housing Act, if you have a disability, landlords are required to give you the same conditions for renting an apartment as any other tenant. They are also responsible for making reasonable modifications for tenants with disabilities.
Note that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to residential buildings. This act is linked to public spaces, such as libraries, offices, shops and restaurants. However, if you live in a building complex, amenity spaces, rental office, and other publicly accessible spaces are subject to ADA requirements.
Who is considered a disabled person?
A person with a disability is defined by federal law as a person who has:
- “A physical or mental disability which considerably limits one or more major activities in the life of such an individual”
- Someone with a history of this type of impairment
- Someone considered to have this type of disability
Examples of such a disability include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Visual impairments
- Mobility disorders
- Hearing impairments
- Severe intellectual disability
- Mental illness
- HIV, AIDS and AIDS complex
The term “major activities of life” encompasses activities that make up a large part of daily life, such as breathing, walking, hearing, seeing, speaking, learning and taking care of oneself.
State laws regarding housing rights for people with disabilities may also vary. Check your local laws for more information. For example, some states include people with temporary disabilities under fair local housing laws.
What is a reasonable modification?
As we noted, your landlord is responsible for any reasonable changes that must be made to tenants with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. Reasonable modification means modifications to a living space necessary to allow a disabled tenant to make full use of the living space. For example, installing a handrail, lowering a closet rod, or installing grab bars in the bathroom may be reasonable modifications.
As a tenant, you can request reasonable modifications and accommodations from your landlord or property manager before moving into an apartment. For example, you might want to request a parking spot with space to accommodate a wheelchair, the ability to send your rental payments to your landlord instead of handling them in person, or permission to have a pet. assistance on the property.
However, you must demonstrate a direct link between the accommodations or modifications requested and your disability. Your landlord may ask for proof that the accommodations are necessary if your disability is not apparent. Your landlord may also request that the apartment be returned to its original condition when you move out if the changes significantly affect the use of the property by the next tenant.
You are not required to submit reasonable accommodation requests in writing. It is always a good idea to keep a written record of communication with your housing provider, whether you decide to keep copies of letters you send to the provider or to send a communication by certified mail.
An amendment that places an undue burden on a landlord may be considered unreasonable. For example, asking a small building to install an elevator would likely be considered unreasonable for a landlord for financial reasons.
What about service animals?
Trained service and assistance animals are included in the reasonable accommodations that a landlord or property manager should make for tenants with disabilities. Under the Fair Housing Act, properly trained service animals are protected, even though the owner does not generally allow pets. However, owners can refuse service animals if these animals are not trained at home, get out of control, or pose a safety threat.
Service animals, like miniature dogs and horses, are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals include emotional support animals. You can provide your landlord or property manager with a letter from your doctor or therapist demonstrating that you need a service or assistance animal.
Can my landlord request information about my disability?
In general, it is illegal for property owners or managers to ask tenants if they have a disability or to inquire about the nature or severity of their disability. Owners are also required to keep confidential any information you voluntarily share with them about your disability, unless otherwise required by law.
If you request reasonable accommodations or modifications, your landlord may request information directly relevant to assessing the request, including verifying the relationship between the disability and the accommodations requested. However, your landlord may only request information directly from this assessment. A healthcare professional or service agency can provide this information to you, as can a reliable third party who knows about your disability or a peer support group.
How do you find an apartment accessible to your needs?
If you are looking for an accessible apartment, research the area you are considering to make sure it is accessible. For example, you may need to check whether public spaces and neighborhood sidewalks are accessible. Use Zumper’s apartment search resources with accessibility filters to find an apartment that meets your needs. With Zumper, you can request a viewing and submit your rental request to the property you desire online.
Ready to start your apartment search? Search thousands of accessible apartments for rent on Zumper and find the one that’s right for you.
Cover image via iStock.com/traveler1116