The best property managers know how to provide exemplary service to all tenants, regardless of special circumstances. With senior housing on the rise, and an aging Baby Boomer population turning to rentals, property managers should be well-versed in the laws regarding housing for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the law of the land in 1990. The ADA is an extensive piece of legislation the “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public”. Housing policies are covered under the ADA, so attentive landlords should be aware of their legal responsibilities towards tenants with disabilities.
Who is considered disabled?
Under the ADA, landlords are prohibited from inquiring about the exact nature of a person’s disability even if the disability is highly visible, for example if the prospective tenant uses a wheelchair. However the ADA addresses what is legally considered a disability in clear, concise language. To be covered under the ADA, “a person must have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities”. A partial list of protected disabilities include:
- Mobility impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Visual impairments
- Chronic alcoholism (if it is being addressed through a recovery program)
- Mental illness
- HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-Related Complex
- Mental retardation
Can I ask for proof of a disability?
Landlords may not inquire about the nature of or ask for proof of disability during the rental application process. However, if the tenant makes a request for accommodation after the lease is signed, the landlord may ask for proof that the request will make the unit more functional for the tenant.
What are reasonable accommodations?
The ADA requires that landlords make “reasonable accommodations” for renters with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, or services that enable a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home and any common spaces. A housing provider is required by law to accommodate a person with a disability, as long as the request doesn’t create an undue financial burden. Common accommodations include installing access ramps, providing a reserved parking spot at the front of a building, or allowing service animals in a unit where pets are not usually welcome.
What is a reasonable modification?
A reasonable modification is a structural modification to a unit or public spaces that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities. Modifications require prior approval from the landlord, and must be constructed by a licensed contractor. Common modifications include widening doorways, installing a grab bar in a bathroom, or installing a ramp into a threshold. It is reasonable and legal to ask that a unit be restored to original condition after the tenant leaves.
Who pays for accommodations and modifications?
Landlords are responsible for paying for accommodations, though many common ones are free or low cost (providing larger print documents, designated a parking spot). Tenants are usually responsible for paying for structural modifications, unless the dwelling is listed as a federally assisted housing structure.
Where can I learn more about providing housing to people with disabilities?
For more information about landlord responsibilities when renting to tenants with disabilities, please see the US Department of Housing and Urban Development website.