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Common myths about ADA obligations as a landlord

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2022 | ADA |

Most apartment buildings and almost all single family homes and condo were made exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  At the time the legislation was enacted, it was felt that the Federal Fair Housing Act was sufficient to cover discrimination in the rental of residential property.  Most states, including California, New Your have additional laws covering “intentional” discriminations.    Claims under the federal ADA, for the most part, do not concern intentional discrimination, but rather how buildings are build and maintained.   If a person has difficulty getting into a building because of the way it was designed, they may say “I was discrimated against because I can’t get into the building, this would not be a situation involving intentional discrimination.   As such most state laws designed to protect people from intentional discrimination would not apply.  However, some courts have held that if an apartment buildings has a place that serves, in effect, as an office where would-be tenants can go to discuss renting, that might be considered a sales office and as such getting to and from that area could be held to be under the Federal ADA.

Understandably, it can be hard for people with disabilities to find housing that accommodates their needs. Some people have wheelchairs that limit them from taking stairs in an apartment complex, for example. Or, someone may need a disabled parking spot close to their apartment. Other people have limited incomes that make it hard to pay rent on time.

The above and many other factors may make some landlords shy away from a possible tenant even if their application is perfect. However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, many disabled people are given an equal chance to participate in all aspects of society, including fair housing. This includes making housing accessible to people with disabilities or, at the very least, making reasonable accommodations.

However, many landlords can’t comply with ADA regulations, not because they’re unwilling, but because of many other factors that are often out of their hands. Despite that, many landlords face frivolous lawsuits to comply with ADA obligations. This often happens because of several common myths. Here’s what you should know:

Myth: ADA applies strictly to all buildings including to older buildings

Truth: Many buildings were built years before the ADA was enacted.  While many people believe they have the right to make demands to accommodate their disabilities, usually under the belief of a “grandfather clause,” there’s often nothing a landlord can do to an older building that wouldn’t cost them a fortune. A “grandfather clause” may not apply to an older building, and as mentioned above the ADA generally does not apply to most areas within an apartment building, but may have some application to what may be considered a leasing or sales office. however, there may be major alterations that may prompt a landlord to comply with modern ADA laws.  Having said that, reasonable accommodations covered under a different act, the Federal Fair Housing Act, in which case the landlord has a number of obligations (a) meet promptly with the person making the request to discuss the request and it feasibility, and (b) if the request has little or no effect cost to the landlord, and little or no effect to the operation, safety or enjoyment of the building to others, the landlord the landlord should grant the request.  For example, a tenant may ask if they could put in grab rails inside the unit at the tenant’s expense and is willing to put up a separate deposit to remove them when the tenant leaves, the landlord would have difficulty denying such a request.