Various federal laws require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for individuals with disabilities.
Federal nondiscrimination laws that protect against disability discrimination cover not only tenants and home seekers with disabilities, but also buyers and renters without disabilities who live or are associated with individuals with disabilities. These laws also prohibit housing providers from refusing residency to people with disabilities or placing conditions on their residency because they require reasonable accommodations or modifications.
Reasonable accommodations in housing
A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service that may be necessary for a person with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or to fulfill their program obligations.
Reasonable accommodations eliminate barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in housing opportunities, including both private housing and federally-assisted programs or activities. Housing providers may not require people with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits or place any other special conditions or requirements as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation.
Since rules, policies, practices and services may have a different effect on people with disabilities than on other people, treating these individuals exactly the same as others will sometimes deny them an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling or participate in a program. Not all people with disabilities will have a need to request a reasonable accommodation; however, if you are disabled, you have a right to request or be provided a reasonable accommodation at any time.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises that is occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford that individual full enjoyment of the premises.
Reasonable modifications can include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas. Examples include the installation of a ramp into a building, lowering the entry threshold of a unit or the installation of grab bars in a bathroom. Under the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination includes a refusal to permit, at the expense of the person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by that person if such modifications may be necessary to afford the individual full enjoyment of the premises.
Some other common examples include:
• Assigning an accessible parking space for a person with a mobility impairment
• Permitting a tenant to transfer to a ground-floor unit
• Adjusting a rent payment schedule to accommodate when an individual receives income assistance
• Adding a grab bar to a tenant’s bathroom
• Permitting an applicant to submit a housing application via a different means
• Permitting an assistance animal in a “no pets” building for a person who is deaf, blind, has seizures or has a mental disability
Laws that apply to reasonable accommodation housing
Three primary laws apply to the subject of reasonable accommodation and modifications. These include the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here’s what you need to know about these acts.
The Fair Housing Act
Under the Fair Housing Act a reasonable accommodation for housing is a change, exception or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service. The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas.
In addition, the Fair Housing Act prohibits a housing provider from refusing to permit, at the expense of the person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by that person if such modifications may be necessary to afford the individual full enjoyment of the premises.
Unlike the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 does not distinguish between reasonable accommodations for housing and reasonable modifications. Instead, both are captured by the term “reasonable accommodations.” Under Section 504, the requirement to make reasonable accommodations applies to any changes that may be necessary to provide equal opportunity to participate in any federally-assisted program or activity. This includes a change, adaptation or modification to a policy, program, service, facility or workplace which will allow a qualified person with a disability to participate fully in a program, take advantage of a service, live in housing or perform a job.
Reasonable accommodations also include any structural changes that may be necessary. Reasonable accommodations may include changes which may be necessary in order for the person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or participate in the federally-assisted program or activity. Under Section 504, reasonable accommodations must be provided and paid for by the housing provider unless providing them would be an undue financial and administrative burden or a fundamental alteration of the program. In such cases, the provider is still required to provide any other reasonable accommodation up to the point that would not result in an undue financial and administrative burden on the particular recipient and/or constitute a fundamental alteration of the program. In addition to the statutory requirement to make reasonable accommodations under Section 504, HUD’s Section 504 regulation provides for making “housing adjustments” at 24 C.F.R. § 8.33.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Similar to and based upon the Section 504 reasonable accommodation requirement, Titles II and III of the ADA require public entities and public accommodations to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices or procedures to avoid discrimination.
This obligation applies unless the public entity can demonstrate that the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program or activity (Title II), or the public accommodation can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations (Title III).
Under both Section 504 and the ADA, public housing agencies, other federally-assisted housing providers and state or local government entities are required to provide and pay for structural modifications as reasonable accommodations/modifications.
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