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Understanding Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications

October 1, 2019

Whether you have a tenant with disabilities or are actively looking for tenants for one of your properties, it’s important for landlords to have a fundamental understanding of reasonable accommodations and modifications.

Simply put, individuals with disabilities represent a large population, and oftentimes will be renters. If you need to provide accommodations or modifications to your property for them, it’s crucial to know how to go about it. We’ll guide you through everything a landlord needs to know about reasonable accommodations and modifications.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation or Modification?

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment, change, exception to a rule, practice, policy or service that gives a disabled person the equal opportunity to live in, use, and enjoy a space. Simply put, a reasonable accommodation takes away any barriers preventing a person with a disability from living and participating in housing opportunities in the same way as those without disabilities.

Typically, accommodations are the financial responsibility of the landlord. That’s the case unless the financial strain would be too severe (The landlord would need to prove that the strain was too severe).

A reasonable modification consists of a structural change a landlord makes to the existing unit. Examples of this include installing a ramp or grab bars in the bathrooms. 

While the landlords will usually cover reasonable accommodations, the tenant typically pays for the modifications. In these cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for proof of financial ability to pay for significant modifications. Additionally, you may also require a tenant to remove modifications before they move out. 

However, if the tenant requests a modification that the landlord should have already made to the property to conform to comply with ADA guidelines, the landlord is responsible for the cost.

Who Can Request a Reasonable Modification or Accommodation? 

If you have a tenant with a disability, they are legally entitled to make requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications. The purpose of this is to ensure that people with disabilities are able to rent and live in units with the same level of safety and comfort that those without disabilities have. 

Sometimes, a disability requires certain alterations. Those may include special door handles, lowered countertops, and wheelchair access. 

The intention of that is not to give tenants “special treatment” of any kind. The intention is to give them an equal opportunity to live in a space at the same level of enjoyment as a tenant without disabilities.

What do the FHA and ADA mean for landlords?

The right to reasonable accommodations is an aspect of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The FHA lays out provisions that prevent the discrimination of tenants or applicants with disabilities. These tenants may request reasonable accommodations as long as they pertain to your established rules, practices, policies or services as a landlord.

The FHA holds you responsible to grant such accommodation requests if they give the tenant an equal opportunity to enjoy and use the space that they’re renting. You are not legally allowed to deny requests that are reasonable in this respect. You must make accommodations and modifications that are necessary and have a direct relation to the tenant’s disability.

Besides the FHA, there are additional statutes that exist to protect tenants with disabilities. One of those is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. That groups reasonable accommodations and modifications together as accommodations. 

Section 504 requires that landlords make necessary changes with respect to reasonable accommodations. They must do this so that someone with disabilities has the equal opportunity to participate in a program or activity (living in a house is also an activity). Section 504 covers a broader scope of spaces to which this applies. However, it also includes housing.

Section 504 also holds the housing provider financially responsible. That’s the case unless there’s an undue burden that results from the request. 

In short, you may not charge tenants with disabilities extra fees or deposits because of any accommodations or modifications resulting from their disability.

Proving the Need for an Accommodation or Modification

Landlords are allowed to ask for proof that an accommodation or modification will actually address the tenant’s needs or resolve any issues. They may ask tenants to provide verification of their disabilities. That’s the case especially if it isn’t clear to landlords how the accommodation would help the tenant. 

This is especially useful for tenants who don’t have visible disabilities. Some people with phobias or mental health issues may need accommodations that don’t seem to directly relate to their mental illness.

The Bottom Line

Landlords must grant reasonable accommodations and modifications to the best of their abilities, as long as they pertain to the disability of their tenants. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that all of these provisions exist for good reason. 

Individuals with disabilities deserve to live in spaces that are comfortable and safe. By working with your tenant, you can come to reasonable agreements that not only improve their lives but also improves your reputation as a housing provider.

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Justin Chaplin
Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
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