Whether you have a current tenant or a prospective tenant who has a disability, it’s essential to have a full grasp on the tenant’s rights as well as your responsibilities. Beyond the legal obligation, your role as a landlord should always focus on providing good service and accommodations to your tenants.
When you’re reviewing applications of prospective tenants, there are several valid criteria upon which you should make your decision. These categories include income, credit history, prior bankruptcies, references, and pets. They also include certain criminal convictions and history of nonpayment of rent.
There are federal statutes that specifically address the rights of people with disabilities when it comes to tenancy. Landlords who reject tenants with disabilities for no reason beyond their disability are violating the law.
That’s why it’s important for landlords to have an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of renters with disabilities. Here’s everything landlords need to know about the housing rights of individuals with disabilities.
Laws Regarding Housing for Individuals with Disabilities
The Fair Housing Act protects people with several types of disabilities. These include visual, mobile, and hearing impairments. They also include alcoholism (though individuals must be in a recovery program in order to be protected), drug addiction (unless it’s caused by the use of an illegal substance), HIV/AIDS, and mental illness.
Mental Illness and the Possibility of Direct Threats
A landlord can’t deny a prospective tenant who suffers from a mental illness equal consideration for the fear of their illness posing a threat. Landlords must regard them under the same rules as other prospective and current tenants. However, you are allowed to assess whether or not they are a threat to other tenants by observing current behavior.
If you have objective observations that lead you to conclude that their illness may prevent them from living safely and responsibly in your rental, you may reject the applicant. Additionally, you may decide to provide reasonable accommodation that would remove any imminent threat posed by the tenant.
When Can a Landlord Ask for More Information about a Disability?
If a tenant asks for a reasonable accommodation or modification, a landlord is allowed to obtain information to evaluate the request. Landlords have the legal right to verify the relationship between the request and the disability. Landlords may only ask for further information if the disability is non-obvious or non-apparent, and was previously unknown to them.
Landlords are restricted to asking for information that pertains directly to evaluating the disability or the need for specific accommodations or modifications based on the disability. The tenant can provide you with this information.
You may also obtain this information from a medical professional or a non-medical service agency. Other options include peer support groups or a reliable third party who knows about the tenant’s disability.
There are, however, instances in which landlords can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation. Landlords can deny the request if it was not made by the person with a disability, or a person on behalf of the person with the disability didn’t make it.
Additionally, if the request does not relate to the disability, the landlord can turn it down. If an accommodation or modification puts the landlord under significant financial and administrative pressure, they must accommodate the needs up to the point where it compromises those elements.
Questions That Landlords Can Ask Prospective Tenants
Though you are not allowed to ask directly about an applicant’s disability, there are other questions that are perfectly appropriate to ask all of your applicants. Those can help you determine whether or not they’re a good fit for your unit.
You may ask all applicants the following questions:
- Whether they abuse illegal substances or have an addiction to illegal substances.
- Whether they can meet tenancy requirements.
- Whether they qualify for a rental that’s available for people only with a certain disability
- Whether they qualify for such a rental that’s offered on a priority basis.
Questions That Landlords Can’t Ask Prospective Tenants
Now that you’re aware of what you can ask, it’s even more crucial to know what you can’t ask. If the applicant submits an accommodation request, you are allowed to ask these questions.
However, without an unprompted disclosure on their end, you must treat a tenant with disabilities as you would any other tenants. Here are the types of questions you cannot ask:
- Do you have a disability?
- What does your disability limit you from doing?
- Will your disability affect your ability to pay rent on time?
- Do you use a wheelchair? How often?
- Do you take medications?
- What is your medical history?
These restrictions are in place to protect tenants from housing discrimination.
Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications
Tenants with a disability have the right to request reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation or modification is something that is adjusted or modified to accommodate the needs of the person with disabilities. However, an accommodation is only considered reasonable if it doesn’t compromise the safety of others or subjects you to undue hardship.
The purpose of a reasonable accommodation is to allow the person with disabilities to get the best use out of their space, equal to the experience of tenants without a disability. One example of a reasonable accommodation could include permitting the tenant to have a service animal. Another example could be giving the tenant a parking space that has enough room for wheelchair access.
Trained service animals are protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for service animals even if they ordinarily prohibit them.
These animals, either dogs or miniature horses, are trained to work with and perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. They are different than emotional support animals.
Landlords have the right to deny a service animal if they aren’t housebroken. They also have the right to deny them if they pose a safety threat, or are out of control.
The Bottom Line
People who live with a disability deserve to have a home in which they feel safe and comfortable. As individuals with disabilities run the risk of being discriminated against due to their special needs, the law has numerous protections for those with disabilities. Following the laws regarding housing rights for those with disabilities will make you a better landlord and protect the rights of your tenants.