Reasonable accommodations in housing

A beige bungalow home

By Matt Serres, Attorney

For many people, a home is more than a structure with four walls. It’s a foundation for launching their dreams and a haven of comfort and security.

Safe, stable housing is something that we all need to thrive. But people with disabilities often face barriers in accessing housing.

One tool that people with disabilities use for lifting these barriers is requesting a reasonable accommodation. These changes in rules, policies, practices, or services ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunity to use the dwelling as a person without disabilities.

Fair Housing Act

Federal law protects people with disabilities from discrimination in all types of housing, including rental units, condos, and houses. Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s discriminatory for a landlord to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation.

The first step in requesting a reasonable accommodation in housing is understanding what one is. Below are the definition and a handful of examples.

Our Fair Housing Handbook

If you’ve identified a reasonable accommodation request that you’d like to make, see our Fair Housing Handbook for the next steps in making that request.

Equal Housing Opportunity: Fair Housing Videos

The National Fair Housing Alliance, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, created these 12 videos in American Sign Language (ASL) with English captioning. These videos provide critical legal and practical information in a format accessible to persons who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing. The videos were produced by Disability Independence Group, National Fair Housing Alliance and Sweetwater Media.

What qualifies as a reasonable accommodation in housing?

This is one of the most common questions tenants with a disability have. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services.  The change is necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

Here are a few circumstances in which reasonable accommodation requests may be helpful in housing:

Assistance Animals

Some people with disabilities rely on assistance animals that work or perform tasks for their benefit. That includes animals that provide emotional support or companionship that alleviates symptoms of a disability.

Some landlords prohibit pets entirely or have other pet restrictions.  A tenant with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation that permits the tenant to keep a dog, even if it exceeds a weight restriction.

An assistance animal is not a pet. Landlords with no pet policies or pet weight restrictions must consider reasonable accommodation requests.

If the dog or other animal alleviates negative effects of a disability or assists in coping with a disability, the landlord should grant the request.

Parking Spaces

Tenants with disabilities may have specific parking needs. Traveling long distances from their rental unit to their car may cause pain or injuries. For those individuals, not having a parking space close to their rental unit diminishes their use and enjoyment of the dwelling.

A landlord’s “first come-first served” waiting-list for parking may negatively affect a tenant with a disability.

The tenant may request a reasonable accommodation to have a parking space close to the rental unit or an exception to the “first come-first served” policy.

Elevator Repair

Apartment elevators commonly fall into disrepair, yet landlords may wait months to make repairs.

A tenant with quadriplegia, for instance, may request a reasonable accommodation for a first-story apartment in those circumstances.

If the landlord does not offer the tenant a first-floor apartment, the tenant may request that the landlord urgently repair the elevator.

Eviction

Eviction may have an especially negative impact on tenants with a disability.

The tenant may have received an eviction notice, but cannot vacate the apartment by the move-out date due to their disability.

  • Under certain circumstances, the tenant may be able to request a reasonable accommodation to extend the move-out date.

The housing authority issues a notice of eviction while a tenant is in a mental health hospital and unable to understand proceedings.

  • The tenant may be able to postpone a grievance hearing until the tenant is out of the hospital and able to understand the hearing.

Extra Room, Larger Unit within the Federally Subsidized Housing Programs

Federally subsidized housing programs have a number of unique rules, policies, practices, and services.

To ensure that people with a disability have equal use of the program, it’s sometimes necessary to modify those rules.

Here are a few examples:

In the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, rules dictate the size of the rental unit.

  • A person with a disability may require an extra room to store equipment related to the disability.
  • The voucher recipient could request a larger unit size as a reasonable accommodation.

The Housing Choice Voucher program also sets the maximum subsidy payment a family can receive.

  • In a tight housing market, having a family member with a disability means the family might have difficulty locating affordable units.
  • A shortage of affordable units appropriate for the family member may support an increased subsidy payment (or “payment standard”) as a reasonable accommodation.

Keep in Mind

Those are some common examples of reasonable accommodations a tenant with a disability might request. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Reasonable accommodation requests are considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • A person requesting a reasonable accommodation must qualify as a person with a disability.
  • Structural changes made to existing premises that do not receive federal financial assistance are reasonable modifications, not reasonable accommodations.  Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s discriminatory for a landlord to refuse to permit a reasonable modification, at the expense of the person with a disability.

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