Fair Housing Act

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Knowing your legal rights & responsibilities is the first step to ensuring that your rights are respected.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act is the Fair Housing Act. The intent of the Fair Housing Act is to ban discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin and disability in most housing transactions. Families with children are also protected.

New Construction

The new construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act apply if a building with four or more units was ready to live in after March 13, 1991:

  1. Public and common areas must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs.

Each unit must have:

  1. An accessible route into and through the unit,
  2. Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls,
  3. Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars, and
  4. Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people who use wheelchairs.

If there is an elevator, the requirements apply to every floor and every unit.

If there is not an elevator, the requirements only apply to ground floor units.

Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, adaptation or modification to a policy, program or service that allows a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling. The term also applies to public and common use spaces.

The Fair Housing Act requires owners and landlords to make reasonable accommodations if the accommodation is necessary to ensure that a person with a disability has equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling or space.

What are some examples of reasonable accommodations?

  • allowing a person with a disability to mail the rent instead of delivering it to the office;
  • assigning a parking space closest to the exit or unit to tenants with mobility disabilities;
  • allowing persons with disabilities to keep service or quality of life animals, despite a general "no pets" policy;
  • not counting a home health aide, therapist, nurse, etc. as an additional tenant or guest;
  • allowing a tenant to move to a more suitable unit when one becomes available;
  • releasing a tenant with disabilities, who must move because of his/her disability, from lease requirements.

Reasonable Modifications

A reasonable modification is a physical change made to a tenant or owner’s living space or to a common area that is necessary to ensure that the tenant or owner who has a disability has full enjoyment of the dwelling or space. Modifications are usually made at the tenant's or owner’s expense, except in the case of federally funded housing.

The Fair Housing Act requires owners and landlords to allow the reasonable modification of a living space of a person with a disability if the modification is necessary to ensure full enjoyment.

What are some examples of reasonable modifications?

  • building ramps over steps to allow wheelchair access
  • installing lever door openers instead of knob openers
  • widening door openings by installing swing-away hinges or wider pocket doors
  • installing grab bars and hand rails
  • installing wheelchair accessible shower stalls
  • changing tub faucets to an off-set location
  • removing under-the-sink cupboards in bathrooms
  • lowering light switches

Funds are often available to assist individuals to pay for modifications. Check with both your area Center for Independent Living and your city and county government to request financial assistance paying for a modification.

Tips

  1. Request by Letter

Check with your housing provider, management company, Board of Directors or other governing/managing group to find out if there is a special way they want you to make your request.

If they have a specific form they require - use it! If no such form or special process exists, submit your request in writing by letter. 

If you are requesting a reasonable accommodation, provide as much detail about the accommodation as possible. If you know about resources that can help the property manager or Board of Directors in providing the accommodation, you may want to include that information. For example, if you are requesting materials in Braille and know of a company that can provide the service at a reasonable cost, you can provide the company’s contact information.

If you are requesting permission to make a reasonable modification, include the following information in your letter or on your form:

•  A full description of the intended modification.


•  An assurance that the modifications will be done by a licensed professional and that the appropriate permits will be acquired.

  1. Certified Mail

Whether you use a form or a letter, send it using certified mail to the property manager and all members of the Board of Directors. 

  1. Copies

Keep copies of the forms and letters and the delivery confirmation.

  1. Documentation of Need

Attach (or start preparing for later submission) documentation verifying that you are a person with a disability and that the accommodation or modification is necessary to afford you equal use/enjoyment of the premises. 

Ask a healthcare provider to write and send the letter (on letterhead) to the property manager and/or Board of Directors and to you.

This letter should identify you as a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Act and verify that, in the opinion of the author, you need the accommodation/modification in order to use the property as well as a person without a disability can use it.

If you are unsuccessful, there are organizations where you can request legal and advocacy assistance. Visit the Discrimination and Other Legal Problems section of this Disability Topic for information.