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What property owners should know if a renter seeks a disability modification

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2021 | ADA |

As the owner of a rental property, whether an apartment complex or a home, you have an obligation to tenants with disabilities under two federal laws in addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These are the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In California, renters with disabilities are also protected under the  Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

A renter has a right to ask for reasonable modifications to be made to a property. However, they may be required to pay for the cost of the modifications as well as the cost of removing them when they leave, if necessary.

Who pays for the modification?

If the modification makes the property ADA-compliant, in some cases, depending on the modification, the property owner could be responsible for paying for it. For example, some courts have held that the path of travel to the rental office should be ADA compliant at least for new potential tenants looking to rent an apartment.  If the modification were to concern this path of travel, then the property owner may be required to pay for the modification.

However, if a renter needs grab bars in their bathroom or some other feature that’s not required under the law, they need to pay to have that installed and removed.

How much do you have a right to know about a tenant’s disability?

It’s rare that someone pretends to have a disability unless they’re trying to pass off a pet as a service dog. Many, but not all, mobility disabilities are apparent. Just because a prospective tenant tells you they need some modifications, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to ask about their disability or their overall health.

You can ask for proof that they need a specific modification or accommodation. You can also ask for proof of their ability to pay to have modifications removed. However, you cannot ask:

  • For proof of their disability
  • How they became disabled
  • How often they need to use a requested modification
  • Whether their disability will impact their ability to pay rent
  • If they have other health issues

A prospective tenant likely isn’t going to sue you for asking intrusive questions. However, if you ask numerous questions and then deny their application for a legal reason like a poor credit score, they could perceive the denial as discriminatory.

It’s wise to know what your rights and responsibilities are as a landlord when it comes to people with all types of disabilities. This can help you avoid costly legal complications.