I have received a few questions about renting to handicapped tenants over the years and I thought I should address it: “Do I need to make any special accommodations for a handicapped tenant/applicant”. First, who is considered handicapped under the law? The federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act (42 U.S. Code §§ 3601-3619, 3631) prohibits discrimination against people who:
- Have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities — including, but not limited to:
- 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, or
- mental retardation
- have a history of such a disability, or
- are regarded by others as though they have such a disability.
Here are the general rules that you must follow as a landlord (if you have further questions, I recommend you contact an attorney or a special interest group):=
- As a landlord, you may not ask an applicant about any handicaps.
- You must base your decisions to rent to (or continue to rent to) a person solely on the basis on credit, criminal, and rental history. You may not deny them solely because of their handicap.
- Even if it is obvious that they are disabled — for example, they use a wheelchair or wear a hearing aid — it is nevertheless illegal to inquire how severely they are disabled. In practice, if there are units available on the ground floor and 2nd floor in the same complex, you must offer both units to a person in a wheelchair, even if you believe they would not be interested in the 2nd floor unit.
- Landlords must reasonably accommodate, at the landlord’s expense, the needs of a disabled tenant such as (but not limited to): rules, procedures, services to give the disabled tenant an equal opportunity to enjoy the common elements and his/her unit. Designating the front parking space would be an example of this.
- Alternatively, landlords must allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable modifications to their units or common areas at their expense in order to allow the tenant to live comfortably or safely in their unit. These modifications may not interfere with current or future tenants ability to use the property. Typical modifications that can be done (and paid for) by a disabled tenant can include: installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access, installing special faucets or door handles to allow for tenants with limited hand mobility. The landlord can require that they changes are removed once the tenant leaves the property and can only be done with prior approval.
- If the need for the modification to the property is not obvious (such as a wheelchair ramp), the landlord may request a doctor’s letter prior to approving the change. This is especially common in mental illness disability and/or phobias.
While this is not an exhaustive list, you need to be aware that you must give a handicapped tenant or applicant every opportunity to rent your apartment.