Landlord Responsibilities: Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications for Tenants with Disabilities
As a landlord you have a lot of responsibilities, many of them legally required. The last thing you want is a lawsuit to bankrupt you or bad press that makes it impossible to ever be a landlord again. You already know you’re not allowed to discriminate against potential or actual tenants for a variety of reasons including race, gender, sexuality, religion, familial status, and disability.
In our ongoing series on your responsibilities as a landlord, let’s discuss tenants with disabilities and reasonable accommodations and modifications.
What is a Protected Disability?
You are never allowed to ask for proof of a person’s disability. Some will be readily apparent and others will not. For purposes of following the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and landlord/tenant laws, people are considered disabled if they have at least one of the following impairments:
● Chronic alcoholism, as long as they’re in a recovery program
● Mental illness
● HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-related complex
● Mental retardation
● Any history of such a disability
Requesting Accommodations and Modifications
Tenants can request reasonable accommodations and modifications from you. If they do, you can ask for proof that what they’re asking for will make the unit more functional. Their doctor should not detail their disability, only the ways they will be able to more fully use their living space and home with the changes.
You should only ask for this proof if they’re asking for changes that violate your typical lease terms or the request involves money and/or structural changes. If a tenant needs a lease agreement in larger print to help them see it or they need a digital copy of the lease so their computer software can read it to them, these are easy enough requests that shouldn’t require proof.
A reasonable accommodation is a change in your rules, policies, or services that allows a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use their home as anyone else would. You are required by law to honor and pay for reasonable accommodations as long as it doesn’t create an unreasonable financial burden on you. Some examples include putting in access ramps, creating reserved parking in areas with shared spots, allowing a service animal, and making it easier for a tenant to read and understand their lease.
It is understood that a landlord with one property and not much income from that property can’t afford to make the same kind of accommodations that a large apartment complex can. When in doubt, consult an attorney who understands your responsibilities as a landlord. Try to say yes whenever you can, but if you have to say no, make sure you have a reason that can hold up in court.
A reasonable modification is different than an accommodation. This is a structural modification to the property that allows a person with a disability full use and enjoyment that a person without a disability would enjoy.
● Modifications require your approval before they can be made.
● The tenant must pay for the work done.
● The work must be done by a licensed contractor.
● You can request a description of the project and proof that the appropriate permits are being pulled.
● You can require that the property be restored to its original condition when the tenant moves out.
The only time a landlord has to pay for a reasonable modification is if your unit is listed as a federally assisted housing structure.
Examples of reasonable modifications that might be requested include:
● Lowering countertops for people in wheelchairs
● Modifying appliances for a blind tenant
● Widening doorways for people in wheelchairs
● Installing a grab bar in the bathroom
● Installing ramps at the thresholds
You cannot discriminate against a tenant with a disability and choose not to rent to them. You must use the same criteria that you use for anyone else - references, background checks, income. When in doubt, consult an attorney so that you stay on the right side of the law.
If it all sounds like too much to remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Work with a property management company that knows the law, understands how reasonable accommodations and modifications work, and will keep you legal. At ERA American Real Estate, we’ve got the resources, knowledge, and background to help you navigate your many responsibilities. Contact us today!