As a landlord, it’s important to know how to provide accessible housing and meet the needs of renters with disabilities. If you’re a tenant, finding an apartment that you love and feel safe in is important. Searching for that perfect place can be challenging if you have a disability, but there are legal rights to be aware of and great resources to make the process easier.
If you’re a caretaker to someone with a disability, knowing if they’re ready to live independently is also crucial in ensuring their daily life is supported. This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about renting with a disability and accessible housing whether you’re a landlord or tenant.
Table of Contents
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person who has a mental or physical impairment that limits one or more major life activities is considered disabled. This definition also applies to those that have records of being disabled. If you meet this definition, you may also qualify for Social Security benefits as long as you have one of these medical impairments. Some common impairments include:
- Mental illness
- Mobility impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Visual impairments
- Chronic skin disorders
- Chronic alcoholism (if it is being addressed through a recovery program)
- HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-Related disorders
- Intellectual disability
Laws Concerning Housing & Disability
There are various laws concerning disability and housing, and certain rights to be aware of, both for tenants and landlords. The laws below, all enforced by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), protect tenants and highlight the responsibilities of landlords when renting out their properties to the disabled.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA prohibits discrimination in all areas of public life against individuals with disabilities, such as public and private places open to the public, as well as work and housing enviornments. To be protected by this law, you must have a disability or have a relationship to a person with a disability.
It’s also important to note that this law only applies to public areas, such as government-owned housing like university dorms and hotel rooms, and not privately owned housing, like apartments.
These public accommodations must comply with basic non-discriminatory requirements that prohibit unequal treatment and segregation. The ADA also requires these public establishments to remove any barriers to accessibility when easy to do so.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination of tenants or prospective tenants because of their disability or the disability of a person associated with them, as well as race, religion, sex, color, familial status, and national origin.
This act covers most housing, but can on rare occasions exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members, and single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent.
Some examples of housing discrimintation include:
- A landlord refusing to rent or negotiate housing.
- Providing different facilities or housing services, or assigning a tenant to a particular area of housing.
- Asking prospective tenants to provide additional renting qualification criteria, such as fees and application requirements.
- Harassing or denying housing based on a prospective tenant’s disability.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability programs and activities conducted by the HUD. This law states that new multi-family housing construction must include a certain percentage of accessible apartments.
A Landlord’s Guide to Renting to Tenants With Disabilities
A landlord does have rights when it comes to renting. Here are some accommodations, guidelines, must-know discrimination laws, and can and can’t do items that you must follow when renting property to tenants with disabilities.
A Landlord May Not Ask Discriminatory Questions
If you’re a landlord, you must treat applicants and tenants with disabilities in the same way as those without a disability. You cannot request medical records or ask directly about an applicant’s disability, or guide a tenant to a specific unit. It’s also illegal to ask if the tenant is capable of independent living.
You also can’t require a pet deposit or pet rent for a service animal, charge extra fees or a higher rent because of the tenant’s disability, or ask about the nature of their disability or its severity. Landlords should not ask questions like:
- How often do you use your wheelchair?
- How did you become disabled?
- Are you taking any medications?
- Will your disability hinder your ability to pay rent on time?
- What is your disability?
- How did you become disabled?
- What is your medical history?
What Can Landlords Can Ask Tenants
Even though you can’t ask directly about an applicant’s disability, you may ask for information to show that they meet the same requirements as any other tenant, with or without a disability. Here are some questions you can ask to determine if they’re a good fit for your rental:
- Do you need specific modification and accessibility accommodations?
- Do you use illegal substances or have an addiction to illegal substances?
- Can you meet basic tenancy requirements, such as cleanliness and no smoking in common areas?
- Do you qualify for a rental that’s available for people only with a certain disability?
Keep in mind that you may ask these questions as long as you ask them to all potential tenants.
Can a Landlord Ask for Proof of Disability?
If it’s unclear whether or not the tenant is disabled, landlords are only allowed to ask for proof of disability when the tenant is asking for accommodations or modifications to be made to the property.
The tenant does not have to give specifics of the disability or give a copy of medical history. The only information that is needed is proof that the tenant has a covered disability, that accommodations are necessary, and that the proposed accommodations will help the tenant utilize the unit properly.
A Tenant’s Guide to Renting with a Disability
According to federal law, tenants and prospective tenants with an impairment have the right to apply for and live in a rental unit regardless of their disability. When a landlord denies housing to or discriminates against tenants with disabilities, they have violated the law. Here are some resources and rights to know before you seek to rent an apartment as a tenant with a disability.
Tenants Have a Right to Accommodation and Modifications
Tenants have a right to request that reasonable modifications and accommodations be made to the lease terms or rental before move-in. An accommodation is a change or adjustment to a property rule, policy, or service. Some accommodation requests include:
- Permission to use a service animal
- Permission to mail in the rent payment
- Request to have a parking spot large enough for wheelchair access
Tenants also have the right to request that modifications be made to the unit. Modifications are a structural change to a unit, which can include:
- Requesting a wheelchair ramp to be installed
- Lowering the counter tops
- Installing special door handles
However, there must be a relationship between the accommodation or modification and the tenant’s disability. If the disability is not directly apparent, the landlord is allowed to ask for proof that the requested accommodations or modifications are necessary. Also, if any changes made to the property would affect the use and enjoyment of the next renter, the landlord may request that the unit be restored to its original condition upon move out.
Who Is Responsible for Financing Accommodations or Modifications?
Typically, the landlord is responsible for paying for these changes at their own cost, but are not required to do so if the request is “unreasonable,” meaning that the change would cause an undue burden on the landlord or result in a fundamental alteration of the property. For example, a tenant requesting to add an elevator to the property would be considered an unreasonable request.
How to Make an Accommodation or Modification Request
Requesting any changes can simply be done via letter. When making a reasonable accommodation request to your landlord, fully describe the required accommodation.
If there are resources that will make it easier or quicker for the landlord to accept the request, a helpful tip is to include this information along with the request (for example, places that are inexpensive that sell access signs or wheelchair ramps). Here are some important points you should consider including in your letter:
- Disclose that you have a disability and that it’s protected by law
- Fully describe the intended modification or accommodation
- Why the modification or accommodation is necessary
What Do I Do if My Request Was Denied
Whenever a request is considered “unreasonable,” the HUD suggests that the landlord and tenant work together to reach a reasonable compromise. Tenants have the right to file a discrimination complaint if the landlord refuses after being provided with sufficient proof that the accommodation is necessary.
Tip: During this process, make sure you request and keep everything in writing. This can make it easier to show proof if you need to file a complaint.
Independent Living Resources
For renters with disabilities, apartment hunting can be tricky. If you’re a caretaker for a loved one or client, making sure they’re able to live independently with confidence is important. Here’s a list of important things to be aware of before your loved one with a disability lives independently:
- Are they prepared to feed themselves? Knowing how to meal prep and practice kitchen safety basics are important for independent living.
- Are they prepared to utilize public transportation? Even if your loved one won’t commute to a job, basic knowledge of local options could serve as a lifeline in the event of an emergency.
- Are they able to handle self-care? Without the proper guidance and an established routine, adults and children with disabilities can sometimes fall into a pattern of self-neglect without the proper guidance and a strong, well-established routine.
- Are they prepared to manage money? Basic money management is a helpful aspect of independent living.
- Are they ready to handle an emergency or unexpected event? Understand that everything from a major weather event to a routine visit from maintenance could present a challenge.
If you answer no to multiple questions, you may want to consider the fact that your loved one isn’t ready to leave home. However, there are still some ways to prepare for this step in the future. Use this checklist below to help you prepare.
Independent Living Safety Tips
If you have a loved one who is planning on living independently, here are some safety tips and considerations to be aware of:
- Know your state’s laws: Tenants’ rights and landlord rights vary by state, such as right of access by the landlord and reasonable notice of entry. So, be aware of the rules of your local government.
- Ask for an extra key: If your loved one is living independently, ask the landlord for an extra key. If this is against lease terms, be sure to negotiate an agreement beforehand.
- Consider becoming a co-signer: Depending on your state’s laws and landlord’s lease terms, consider becoming a co-signer for your loved one with a disability. This can be helpful in case of potential financial problems.
As you prepare your loved one for independent living, be sure to visit the resources below for more information to help make the transition easier.
- Independent Living Resource Center
- Teaching the Art of Cooking to People With Special Needs
- 5 Ways to Teach an Older Child with Special Needs about Hygiene
- A Guide to Travel Training
- Emergency Preparedness Resources for Persons with Disabilities
- Help Teach Money Management
Additional Tenant Resources
- Social Security Administration Disability Benefits
- What Fair Housing Means for People with Disabilities
- HUD’s Fair Housing Guide
- Tenant Rights by State
- USA.gov Moving Guide
- USA.gov Financial Assistance and Support Services for People with Disabilities
- Disability-Related Discrimination
- National Federation of the Blind
- National Association of the Deaf
If you’re renting with a disability or a landlord looking to rent property to a tenant with a disability, following this guide will help you better understand your rights and certain guidelines. To find the perfect tenant for your property, visit our rental application and tenant screening services.