With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day, it is likely you as a landlord or property manager will begin to get more requests from potential tenants about whether your rental property is disability friendly. Or, you may be asked to make a reasonable accommodation.
We recently completed a small renovation of one of our properties and took the time to expand the doorway into the bathroom to more than 36 inches to give easy wheelchair access.
It was easy and not expensive to do so. Then out front where we had a cracked sidewalk and steps, we poured new concrete with a ramp up to the front porch instead of the two steps that had been there.
Again, not a big expense but now someone will see that nice concrete ramp up to the front porch and immediately know this house may be a good rental for the disabled.
In addition we had one long-time tenant who asked for a ramp to be built from the front porch to the ground. He volunteered to pay for the materials and we built it for him.
Also, a prospective tenant may ask you for an accommodation and we will discuss that more a little later. But better to be proactive in this area than being unprepared when a prospective disabled tenant makes requests down the road.
Here are some ways to be proactive in your rental property
12 Tips For Making a Property Safe And Disability Accessible
- Repair or remove carpet flooring that has become loose, broken tiling and/or any kind of uneven, damaged pavement.
- Pave all walkways and driveways to render them regular and obstacle-free.
- Enlarge all doorways on both interior and exteriors to at least 36 inches wide.
- Consider installing automatic systems allowing remote opening of doorways, garages and gates.
- Install ramps on all multileveled access points.
- Replace door knobs with accessible flat handles.
- Install non-slip flooring in bathrooms, kitchens, exterior walkways and any other surface that is likely to become slippery when wet.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom, ensuring that they are placed at the correct height and that can support the weight of an average adult.
- Consider installing particular accessible fixtures – such as toilets and showers – or begin by lowering toilets and lavatories.
- Accessible faucets are ideally switched on by motion sensors.
- Light switches should be lowered to be accessible for wheelchair users, or substituted for a motion-sensing lighting system.
- Mailboxes should be lowered or substituted for accessible models.
Accommodating disabled tenants in your rental
Even if you only own one rental property, as a landlord and property manager it is fundamental to understand the laws pertaining to disability and accessibility for prospective disabled tenants.
The Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act make it unlawful to reject a prospective tenant because of their disability as you know. However it also prohibits asking a prospective disabled tenant about whether they are disabled and about the nature of their disability, visible or not.
While such questions are unlawful, the law allows for clarifying whether a prospective tenant qualifies for demanding a rental property designed for disabled tenants only, or for a rental property designed to accommodate certain disabilities in particular.
Accommodations are a core element to accessibility law.
The law states that disabled tenants may request reasonable accommodations to be provided, added or allowed for them to use and access their living space or other areas on the property.
What is a reasonable accommodation for a landlord to make?
Requesting or making changes to a property fall into the category of reasonable requests that may or may not be granted. Before any modifications can be made, they must be approved by a property manager/landlord/owner in charge, who can ask the tenant to provide information regarding how proposed changes are necessary and/or ideal for them.
State laws can also apply to residential requirements, and should be considered when handling a request for building modifications.
The nature of the accommodation requested should exhibit a reasonable relationship to the disability. Such reasonable requests include allowing a service animal to live on the property or a designated parking space. To handle requests properly, it is fundamental to have an open discussion with a tenant regarding their needs.
Deciding what represents a reasonable request can be challenging considering that it can vary from case to case and property to property.
What HUD says about disability
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has defined what a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act is.
HUD says in the guidelines, “One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations are necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
“The Fair Housing Act’s protection against disability discrimination covers not only tenants and home seekers with disabilities but also buyers and renters without disabilities who live or are associated with individuals with disabilities. The Act also prohibits housing providers from refusing residency to persons with disabilities, or placing conditions on their residency, because they require reasonable accommodations. Since rules, policies, practices, and services may have a different effect on persons with disabilities than on others, treating persons with disabilities exactly the same as others will sometimes deny them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
HUD also requires a “interactive process” for reaching a reasonable compromise between a tenant and property manager/landlord/owner, generally justifying the rejection of demands for certain accommodations only when they represent an “undue” financial burden on the landlord or property owner.
Generally, unless a property is considered to be federally assisted housing, disabled tenants are expected to arrange and pay for necessary modifications to the property.
As mentioned up top, making your rental disability friendly can give you an advantage as a landlord or property manager.
Making some of these 12 changes mentioned above can be significantly beneficial. It can make a rental property particularly appealing for tenants who value living in an accessible and safe space.
Considering that disability law is more lax and challenging to apply uniformly for residential spaces, disabled tenants will likely also value their ability to find a welcoming space that they can trust to accommodate their needs, often becoming long-term tenants.