You are protected against unlawful housing discrimination on the basis of your disability. It is illegal to discriminate against someone based on his or her disability, or against anyone who is associated with a person with a disability. If you are denied an opportunity to rent, buy, finance or insure a home or apartment—or given false information about a housing transaction—because of your disability, you are a victim of illegal housing discrimination. It is also illegal for landlords or other housing providers to treat current residents or tenants with a disability unfavorably because they have a disability, or associate with people with disabilities.
Examples & Warning Signs of Disability Discrimination:
- Asking a tenant or resident with a disability intrusive questions about their disability
- Refusing to rent to, or requiring a larger security deposit, for a person with a motorized wheelchair claiming the potential for property damage.
- Being harassed or intimidated because of your disability.
- “Steering” a visually impaired person to a downstairs unit.
- Applying a no-pets policy, or requiring a pet deposit or extra rent, because a resident has a disability-related assistance animal.
- Refusing to allow a tenant to make reasonable modifications to a rental unit to make it more accessible.
- Building new multi-family housing units that do not meet accessibility standards.
Fair Housing disability protections are unique because in some circumstances fair housing laws require that housing providers treat disabled people differently from non-disabled people. People with disabilities may have physical, mental, or emotional limitations that prevent or interfere with their ability to obtain, use and enjoy their housing. In order for people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing, it is sometimes necessary for housing providers to make “reasonable accommodations” or allow “reasonable modifications.”
Learn more about Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Reasonable Accommodations & Reasonable Modifications
A person with a disability is entitled by Fair Housing laws to request a reasonable accommodation. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change in a housing provider’s rules, policies, practices, or services when the change is needed to give people with disabilities equal opportunities to use and enjoy their housing. When requested accommodations are reasonable, housing providers are required by law to make the accommodations.
Reasonable Accommodations Must…
- Be made by or on behalf of a person with disabilities. This person can be someone seeking housing, a property owner in a condominium development, or a rental housing tenant. It can also include household members and others connected with the person with a disability.
- Be requested. A housing provider is not required to offer a reasonable accommodation that has not been requested.
- Be connected to the person’s disability. Housing providers are not required to do everything a person wants just because the person has a disability. Fair housing laws only require housing providers to make accommodations when there is a connection, or “nexus,” between the requested accommodation and the person’s disability (for example, providing a designated parking spot for a person with a walking disability).
- Be supported by documentation from a health professional or other person who can establish that the person has a disability and explain the nexus between the disability and the accommodation request—unless the disability is apparent to the housing provider.
- Be “reasonable.” A housing provider does not have to grant an unreasonable request. Courts have decided that a request is not reasonable if: (1) the request would create an undue administrative and financial burden on the housing provider; (2) the request would fundamentally change the housing provider’s business; or (3) the person poses a “direct threat” to others or that granting the request would result in substantial property damages, unless this risk can be significantly reduced by the accommodation.
- Be taken seriously. If a housing provider believes a request is not reasonable or would like to suggest a different way to accommodate a request, the housing provider must engage with the person who is seeking an accommodation to explore alternatives or seek additional information. Unreasonably delaying or denying a reasonable accommodation request without this interactive process may be illegal.
How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation
Fair housing laws do not require people with disabilities to use specific forms or to use the words “reasonable accommodation” in making their request. However, it is best to make a request for a reasonable accommodation in writing so that the request is properly documented.
Here’s what one woman did when her landlord denied her service dog.
What is a Reasonable Modification?
A person with a disability is also entitled by fair housing laws to request a reasonable modification. A “reasonable modification” is a structural change to a dwelling or common area that is necessary to enable a person with disabilities to have full use and enjoyment of the premises. Reasonable modifications requests can be made at any time during a resident’s tenancy. Fair housing laws require housing providers (i.e., landlords, homeowners’ associations) to allow reasonable modifications. For a more complete description of fair housing laws as they relate to reasonable modifications, click here to view the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice: Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act. Reasonable Modifications Must…
- Be made by or on behalf of a person with disabilities. This person can be a person seeking housing, a property owner in a condominium development, or a tenant in rental housing. It also can include household members and, in some cases, frequent visitors to the home.
- Be requested and approved. Fair housing laws do not permit a resident to make structural modifications without the housing provider’s permission. In addition, this would probably violate contract and property laws.
- Be connected to the person’s disability. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair makes a reasonable modification request to install a wheelchair ramp. In this case, the person’s disability makes a wheelchair necessary and there is a connection, or “nexus,” between the person’s disabling condition and the need for a wheelchair ramp.
- Be supported by documentation from a health provider or other person who can establish that the person has a disability and explain the nexus between the disability and the accommodation request—unless the disability is apparent to the housing provider.
- Be “reasonable.” A housing provider does not have to grant an unreasonable request. If the disabled person is responsible for the cost, most necessary modifications are reasonable unless they create health or safety hazards or make other units inaccessible to residents.
- Be taken seriously. Unreasonably delaying or denying a reasonable modification request may be considered a denial, and thus be illegal.
Special Considerations for Reasonable Modifications
- Design & Construction. The Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily buildings (more than four units) built after March 1991 to meet certain accessibility standards. If a building does not meet those standards, the owner may be required to retrofit the unit—at the owner’s expense—in response to a reasonable modification request.
- Aesthetic Considerations. If a housing provider would like to change a modification plan to make it more aesthetically pleasing, the provider can propose alternatives; however, if these changes would make the project more expensive, the housing provider is responsible to pay the difference.
- Permits & Building Standards. Once a housing provider approves a modification, the person making the request is responsible for getting permits, if necessary, and assuring that the modification is completed in a “workmanlike manner.”
- Removing Modifications. If a resident makes modifications inside the home that would not be desired by future occupants, and if it is reasonable, the housing provider can require the resident to return the home to its original condition.
- Who Pays for Reasonable Modifications? In private housing (including Section 8 voucher rentals), the provider has to allow reasonable modifications, but the resident has to pay for them. However, when a housing provider receives direct federal funding (i.e., public housing or “project-based Section 8,” the housing provider may be required to cover the costs.
How to Request a Reasonable Modification
It is best to make a request for a reasonable accommodation in writing so that the request is properly documented. In addition, if the person’s disability or the ‘nexus’ is not apparent, documentation from a health care provider may be necessary. The person seeking the modification also may need to provide drawings, diagrams, plans, or other information about the proposed work.
If you believe you were discriminated against because of your disability, file a complaint.