Disabled Renters’ Rights: What You Need To Know About Your Living Situation

By: Sara Bell, EducatorLabs

For many disabled Americans, finding an apartment that can accommodate their needs is a daunting task. Some may have physical disabilities that require particular modifications, access to elevators or an extra-wide parking space, or a certain level of the apartment building. Others need a quiet space away from the street.

In any case, it’s fortunate that there are laws put into place for disabled individuals who are also renters. These laws state that landlords cannot discriminate based on the disability and that no one can be refused housing because of their medical needs. There are some rules, however, so it’s important to know your rights–and your landlord’s rights–before renting.

You may need to offer proof of your disability

If you require special modifications to your dwelling–or special circumstances–you may need to show proof that your disability requires it, especially if the disability is not physical or obvious. This proof may consist of a written statement from a doctor or other healthcare provider, proof of disability income, or a statement from a reliable party who is familiar with the situation.

The landlord can’t ask about your disability

When applying for a rental, rest assured that the landlord cannot ask you discriminatory questions about your disability or how it affects your everyday life. He or she may also not reject your application based on your disability unless they have reason to believe–from a verifiable source–that you have a past of violence or disturbing other tenants. Questions such as the following are forbidden:

  • Can you live independently?
  • Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?
  • Do you take any prescription drugs?
  • Have you been hospitalized recently?

You have a right to ask for reasonable changes

While different states have different rules regarding what a landlord can be expected to do, it’s widely accepted that a renter with a disability can ask for changes within reason that won’t damage the rental or the landlord’s ability to run a business. For instance, the owner doesn’t have to install expensive equipment (such as an elevator), but he does have to make sure he can accommodate you in other ways. Rules and services can be changed to ensure you are safe and happy.

In some instances, the landlord may be responsible for expenses incurred while updating a rental to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. If the rental has been brought up to code and there are still changes that could be made–such as safety bars in the bathroom that require reinforcement in the walls–the renter can apply for a permit to make those changes at his own expense and the landlord cannot refuse.

Service animals

Because service animals are not viewed as pets–but rather, as necessary support animals for many disabled people–landlords cannot refuse them no matter what their pet policy may be. In most states, the landlord cannot charge extra fees or deposits for service animals, but the renter is still responsible for keeping the rental clean and damage-free.

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