Rights of Tenants with Disabilities

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 Can a Landlord Ask a Tenant About a Disability?

A landlord is not permitted to ask about the physical or emotional disabilities of a tenant. A landlord is required to treat all prospective tenants the same, no matter what disability they may have.

Potential tenants are not required to discuss the extent of their disability or injury with the landlord. In addition, landlords are not permitted to ask disabled renters questions that may seem discriminatory, including:

  • Whether their disability may prevent them from paying their rent each month;
  • If they are taking any prescribed medications for their disability;
  • What the prescribed medications are;
  • How often they need to use medical equipment, for example, a wheelchair; or
  • If the tenant is able to live on their own.

Landlords, however, may ask disabled renters if they require reasonable accommodations or specific adjustments to their rental property. Landlords may ask disabled tenants if they have substance abuse issues or are currently addicted to illegal drugs.

Landlords may also ask whether disabled tenants qualify for special housing that is specifically for individuals who have particular medical disabilities.

Who Is Considered Disabled?

Under federal law and various other landlord-tenant laws and renters’ laws, renters may qualify as being disabled or having a disability if:

  • They have a mental impairment or physical condition that significantly impacts their ability to perform one or more major life activities, including:
    • Impaired vision or hearing loss;
    • Chronic alcoholism;
    • HIV, AIDS, or AIDS-related complex;
    • A mental illness;
    • An intellectual disability;
    • Impaired mobility; or
    • Chronic skin disorders;
  • Have a history of having any one of the disabilities listed above; or
  • Others consider them to have such a disability, even if they are not yet officially diagnosed to have any of these disabilities.

What Are Your Rights as a Person With a Disability?

In general, renters who have disabilities are legally entitled to certain rights related to renting property. For example, disabled renters may request that landlords make reasonable accommodations for them.

One major category of disabled renters’ rights is referred to as disability housing rights. United States federal housing laws, such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), define and protect these rights.

Under the FHA, disabled renters’ rights include:

  • Landlords are prohibited from discriminating against or refusing to rent property to an individual based on their disability;
    • There is one exception when a mental impairment that would pose a dangerous or serious risk of threat to the safety of other tenants in the building;
  • Landlords are not permitted to harass an individual because of or based on their disability; and
  • Landlords are also prohibited from requesting that a disabled renter pay an increased monthly rent or additional fees because they have a disability.

Additionally, landlords cannot provide different housing services, offer separate facilities, or assign disabled renters to certain sections of the apartment building or rental house. Landlords are not permitted to ask disabled renters specific questions regarding their medical disability.

Can a Landlord Ask For Proof of Disability?

Generally, landlords are not permitted to ask for proof of disability when they are renting to disabled tenants. An exception to this rule may occur when a tenant requests that the landlord make certain modifications or accommodations for them based on their disability.

Landlords, however, may only ask questions that allow them to make the modifications or accommodations that the disabled tenant is requesting. They cannot request copies of their medical records or ask about the specific symptoms of the tenant’s diagnosed disability. Tenants only have to show a connection between their disability and their modification or accommodation request.

Does the Landlord Have to Provide Adequate Accommodations?

A landlord has a duty to prove reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities, which typically includes:

  • Lowering appliances;
  • Indoor ramps;
  • Installation of safety bars;
  • Widening of doorways.

These reasonable accommodations may include structures such as wheelchair access and parking spaces. Landlords, however, are not always required to make these accommodations. For example, if an accommodation would substantially impair a landlord’s ability to do business, they may not be required to do so.

Can a Tenant Make Modifications to the Living Space?

Tenants are entitled to make reasonable modifications to their living spaces. A landlord may request to determine what types of modifications are going to be made and has the right to verify that the proper workers and permits are being used.

When the tenant leaves the unit, they may be required to restore the unit to its original condition.

How Do You Ask For a Reasonable Accommodation or Modification?

As noted above, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals who qualify as having disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations or modifications. The ADA defines accommodations as reasonable modifications or adjustments that are made to legally specified environments. For example, workspaces or public housing units.

Landlords, for example, may be required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants by adjusting rental properties, standard rental rules, or rental services. The ADA provides disabled tenants with the right to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use the rental property.

Another example of an accommodation would be if the majority of tenants have to submit their rent payment by mail. However, the landlord allowed a disabled tenant to provide a check in person each month because they live in the building. In some situations, the landlord may even go to the renter’s home to get the rent.

Disabled tenants may also make reasonable accommodations or modifications to a rental unit at their own expense. For example, the tenant may ask for approval from their landlord to hire a contractor to install special door handles, wheelchair ramps, or faucets in the rental property.

Tenants may also request permission to keep service animals. For instance, a seeing-eye dog if they are blind or have severe visual impairments. In order to obtain an accommodation or modification, the tenant will begin by making a request to the landlord.

When Can a Landlord Deny a Request?

Housing providers may deny requests for reasonable accommodations if the requests were not made on behalf of or by an individual with a disability or if there is not a disability-related need for the accommodation.

Additionally, requests for reasonable accommodations may be denied if providing the accommodation would not be reasonable. This could potentially mean it would impose undue financial and administrative burdens on the housing provider, or it would fundamentally alter the nature of their operations.

The determination of what is reasonable must be made on a case-by-case basis. The factors that may determine reasonableness include:

  • The cost of the requested accommodation;
  • The financial resources of the landlord;
  • The benefits the accommodation would provide the tenant;
  • Whether there are alternative accommodations that would effectively meet the tenant’s disability-related needs.

Should the Landlord or Tenant Pay for the Modifications?

A landlord should pay for reasonable accommodations made to the premises. Tenants, however, are typically required to pay for the modifications that are made to their own living spaces.

The landlord and tenant should discuss the items that they feel are necessary and who should be responsible for funding them.

Should I Consult With an Attorney?

Landlord-tenant law may be complex, voluminous, and confusing. If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to being a tenant with a disability, you should consult with a landlord-tenant lawyer. If you believe your landlord is unreasonably denying your requests, your lawyer can advise you regarding what steps to take.

If you are a landlord, your lawyer can advise you of the applicable laws as well as what accommodations you are required to make for your tenants. It may be helpful to have your lawyer review tenant requests with you to ensure you comply with the law

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