Disabilities and fair housing

One of the hardest parts of having an illness or condition, be it MS, or cancer or MD, lupus, blindness, Parkinsons, etc., etc., is finding a place that is easy to live in. We all have our issues, maybe it is stairs are too hard to climb, or parking is not close, or wheelchair accessibility is not considered. There are many more, but having an illness definitely brings its own challenges in terms of living.

One of the things I remember is shortly after I was diagnosed with MS, I approached my landlord and informed her that I had recently been diagnosed with MS. I was having trouble navigating the stairs and there were no “assigned” parking spaces and I often had to park on the street which is difficult in WNY winters.

She looked at me and said,”Sorry. Your lease isn’t up for another 6 months. You can’t break the lease.” And she walked away. At my tender age of 24, I didn’t know I had any rights and I didn’t know that I could fight back. Now I am a Realtor and I know about the rights of the disabled. I have included a brief synopsis of some of those rights below.

The HUD regulations and the 1988 act contain the same general prohibitions against discrimination because of handicap. Prohibited actions under this section include:
• To discriminate in the sale or rental or to otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of: (1) that buyer or renter; (2) a person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is so sold, rented, or made available; or (3) any person associated with that buyer or renter.
Reasonable Modifications
The 1988 act requires that persons with disabilities be allowed, at their own expense, to make reasonable modifications necessary for their full and equal enjoyment of the dwelling. A housing provider’s refusal to permit the modifications as required by the law amounts to discrimination based on handicap. Examples of modifications include widening doorways, installing grab bars, and lowering kitchen cabinets.
In a case involving a rental, a landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the renter’s agreement to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted.

Landlords may not increase any customarily required security deposits for handicapped persons, but they are permitted to negotiate a provision in the restoration agreement requiring that the tenant pay into an interest-bearing escrow, over a reasonable period of time, a reasonable amount of money to fund the restoration. The interest must accrue to the benefit of the tenant.
A landlord may also condition permission for a modification on the renter’s providing a reasonable description of the proposed modifications as well as reasonable assurances that the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any required building permits will be obtained

Reasonable Accommodations
The 1988 act requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations are necessary to afford a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit. Examples of reasonable accommodations include allowing a person with a visual impairment to have an assistive animal in a building that has a “no pets” policy and allowing a person with a mobility impairment to have a reserved parking space near the apartment even though the complex does not have assigned parking.

Housing providers may not inquire whether a person has a disability or ask questions concerning the nature or severity of a disability. The following inquiries are acceptable, provided that they are asked of all applicants, regardless of disability:
1. Inquiry into an applicant’s ability to meet the requirements of ownership or tenancy
2. Inquiry to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a dwelling available only to persons with handicaps or to persons with a particular type of handicap
3. Inquiry to determine whether an applicant for a dwelling is qualified for a priority available to persons with handicaps or to persons with a particular type of handicap
4. Inquiring whether an applicant for a dwelling is a current illegal drug abuser or addicted to a controlled substance

Design and Construction Requirements for New Housing
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 requires that all covered multifamily dwellings first occupied after March 13, 1991, be designed and constructed with certain accessibility-enhancing features, including a building entrance on an accessible route. Covered multifamily dwellings include buildings consisting of four or more dwelling units if such buildings have one or more elevators, and ground floor dwelling units in other buildings consisting of four or more dwelling units. On March 6, 1991, HUD published the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines to provide technical assistance to builders, developers, and others in the development chain.

You can find more details on the websites for the ADA (Americans with Disabilites Act) or on the Fair Housing website. Know your rights and what can and cannot be done to those with a disability. I wish I had known more 14 years ago.


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