As the owner of an apartment building, you have many rules and regulations to follow. You likely deal with safety codes, insurance and taxes, not to mention the delicate issues with tenants, rent and evictions. One important matter you cannot overlook is following the rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act for making your building accessible to tenants and potential tenants who have disabilities.
While you may fulfill as many requirements as California and federal laws require, it is possible that one of your tenants or applicants will request a modification that will improve his or her accessibility or make living there more comfortable. Are you prepared to handle such a request? Do you know what the law requires you to do in such a case?
Your rights and responsibilities
A tenant or applicant who requests reasonable modifications or accommodations of your policies is not asking for special treatment. Instead, most requests seek only the opportunity to have the same enjoyment and use of space that those who do not have disabilities enjoy. Some accommodations are easy to comply with. However, you may have to pay for certain modifications, and the law allows you to refuse only if they would be financially burdensome. Any additional modifications the tenant wants in a unit, however, he or she must pay for.
While law requires many of the accessibility features in common areas, a tenant may request additional or unique accommodations or modifications. You may ask for verification of a disability if you do not understand how the modification request will help your tenant. However, the law prohibits you from refusing to rent to someone with disabilities, charging extra fees or evicting a tenant who makes a reasonable request, such as any of the following:
- Ramps in common areas
- Grab bars in bathrooms
- An assigned parking space near the entrance
- A modification of rent payment methods
- Service or support animals in an apartment with a no-pets policy
What landlords and property owners must be alert to, especially those who own older buildings, is people who take advantage of the ADA by filing frivolous lawsuits against property owners or claiming a building owner failed to make reasonable accommodations. These lawsuits can be difficult to fight, and it is important for a property owner to obtain solid legal support. An attorney who has handled numerous drive-by ADA claims can also be an invaluable resource for helping a property owner with compliance to avoid future lawsuits.