If a tenant with a disability wants to rent from you—or an existing tenant finds him or herself dealing with a disability—you’ll need to be aware of the relevant laws that have been created for their protection.
The first thing to note is the federal Fair Housing Act says you can’t say no to a potential tenant because of a mental or physical disability. But what else do you need to know?
Accommodations for tenants
The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make certain adjustments—legally described as “accommodations”—at their own expense, for the needs of tenants with disabilities. The accommodations may be to an individual unit or to common areas in the building.
Yes, that sounds expensive, but note that the law says the accommodations must be “reasonable.” Requests that would create undue financial burdens on a landlord are not considered reasonable. So, for example, installing an elevator in a five-story walk-up apartment building would not be reasonable, but providing a close-in parking spot (if parking is included) would be.
Other examples of reasonable accommodations might include allowing a tenant’s home healthcare aide to use a tenants-only laundry room, removing a carpet in a hallway, or permitting a tenant to have a service dog in a no-pets building.
You don’t have to rely on the tenant’s word that they need a particular modification. As a landlord, you’re allowed to respectfully ask your tenant for proof that certain adjustments are necessary. A letter from a doctor or therapist is sufficient proof.
Modifications by tenants
Your tenant must be allowed to make modify the unit, at their own expense, so that it’s safe and comfortable for them. If the modifications would be inconvenient to future tenants, you can require your renter to undo them before vacating or to place money in escrow to cover the costs of reversing the changes.
It’s important to be informed on this subject from a legal perspective as a landlord, but also in order to check yourself against unconscious bias that contributes to discrimination. Your state and local ordinances may provide additional guidance on protections for those with disabilities, so consider checking with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law.