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What are Disabled Renter's Rights?

Disabled renters' rights help ensure people with disabilities get equal treatment as they look for a place to live. 

There are many housing laws in place that give protection against discrimination to renters living with disabilities. Discrimination against disabled renters presents itself in many ways, and these laws are designed to address each.

Every renter deserves the right to a place to live, whether they are living with a disability or not!

Here's a quick guide to disabled renters' rights:

Fair Housing Act

All renters, including disabled renters, are protected under the Fair Housing Act. These laws were set into place to protect disabled renters' rights as they search for homes. In addition to disallowing discrimination against disabled people, it also prohibits discrimination against gender, nationality, race, religion, and other factors that make up a renter's identity.

This law prohibits essentially anything that discriminates against groups of people when it comes to housing. Rental property owners can't refuse to rent to someone, change prices, harass, refuse to perform repairs, and much more — basically, anything that would stop a person from being able to rent or live reasonably in the home.

The main purpose of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is to allow any renter, disabled or otherwise, to have as close to the same experience as any other renter would have. The term 'disabled' covers a wide range of situations, from physical impairment to alcoholism. No matter the particular life situation, everyone should have the right to find a home.

Disability-Specific Rights

Disabled renters' rights are covered by the laws in the FHA. These laws ensure that people with disabilities can rent and live with ease in their homes. Rental property owners must make reasonable accommodations and modifications to their properties to make it easier for people with disabilities to live in them. The building owner may have to make structural adjustments to allow easier access to the renter's home. Examples of these include:

- Installing wheelchair ramps to entrances and exits
- Installing grab bars in bathrooms
- Assigning a handicap parking space
- Allowing service animals into the building

There are numerous ways a rental property owner may have to make adjustments to their property to allow the disabled renter to be able to live there.

These laws also protect disabled renters from having to give out information about their disability. Under the FHA, landlords are prohibited from asking for information about your disability. The property owner can't talk to your neighbors about your disability. Your privacy is protected, and all you have to tell them is what you need to live comfortably.

What Can't a Landlord Do?

Let's lay out the specifics of what a landlord cannot do.

The law does not just protect people with physical disabilities — it also protects renters with mental disabilities. Landlords can't refuse an applicant because they fear a mentally ill person is dangerous unless there is provable evidence to support the fear. In other words, landlords can refuse if they can make their decisions based on real evidence, such as the tenant performing dangerous acts (e.g., assaulting, threatening, etc.)

The landlord is also not allowed to pick and choose which rooms, floors, or areas of a property to show you as you're looking for a new place to live. This helps avoid the situation where a landlord limits disabled people to a certain area. They also can't refuse to make modifications to their building for any reason, as long as your request is reasonable.

The best way to recognize an unlawful housing practice is to ask yourself this question when confronted with a situation: 'Would the same thing have happened if it concerned a non-disabled person?' If the answer is an honest 'no,' it likely may be discriminatory.

How to Request Reasonable Modifications

If you've chosen a rental property that doesn't have the modifications you need to live there easily, you can simply make the request to the rental property owner yourself. Open up a dialogue and ask the property owner to make the modification that you need.

As you do this, keep in mind that the property owner doesn't need to know what your disability is. They're not allowed to ask for or seek out information about your disability. They can only ask about the accommodation changes you're looking for — not why you need them. Sometimes, if the renter's disability is not obvious, the rental property owner will ask for proof that the modifications are truly needed. This is allowed, as it gives the property owner assurance that the request is reasonable. To save time, a disabled renter should have third-party verification that the change is needed (e.g., a note from a doctor).

Once the modification is approved, more often than not, the disabled renter must pay for it. The disabled renter is also responsible for the costs of reversing the modifications once they move out.

Not every request for modification has to be accepted. Sometimes, the request is considered an unreasonable accommodation. Any change that would make for an unfair financial burden on the property owner may be considered to be unreasonable.

What If Discrimination Occurs?

Discrimination comes in many forms, and some are less obvious than others. But all discrimination in the housing world is illegal. Disabled renters' rights are just as important as anyone else's.

Any sign that a rental property owner may be taking steps to make it more difficult or impossible for disabled people to live on their property is a sign of discrimination. If you find any of these signs, you should do your part to rectify the issue.

If you feel you've encountered discrimination from a rental property owner, there are a couple of actions you can take.

First, you can, and should, file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The FHEO will take your complaint and perform an investigation.

Second, you can seek legal counsel from an organization that makes fighting for disabled people's rights a priority.

Our team at Priority for the Disabled is here to give you the tools you need in your situation. Whether you're simply looking for more information or you want to take legal action, Priority for the Disabled works to get you the help you need.