Housing law protects people with disabilities
Federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to be treated fairly when they rent and buy housing.
Housing providers may not discriminate based on disability
Housing providers may not impose application or qualification standards, rental amounts, sales prices, or any other terms that are different from those imposed on nondisabled people.
A housing provider cannot:
- Charge a higher rent to someone who uses a wheelchair on the assumption that the wheelchair will cause damage to the apartment
- Require greater assets before selling to a person with an intellectual disability based on the assumption that people with intellectual disabilities cannot hold down a job
- Charge a person with a service animal a surcharge based on the assumption that the animal will damage the apartment
A provider may refuse to rent to people with a disability only if they pose a “direct threat” to other residents. A determination of a direct threat must be made after an individualized assessment, not based on fear or stereotypes. It is also unlawful for local governments to use zoning policies to keep people with disabilities from living in their area.
Housing providers must make or allow reasonable accommodations and modifications
Housing providers must make and pay for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and must allow people with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.
A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices or services to allow people with disabilities equal opportunity to enjoy their homes and the building’s common areas.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Providing a resident who has a mobility impairment with a reserved parking space close to the entrance, even though parking for nondisabled residents is first-come, first-served
- Allowing a resident to have a service dog, even though no pets are allowed in the building
- Calling a resident who is blind to provide information that other residents receive by written notice
A housing provider can deny a reasonable accommodation only if it would result in an undue burden to the provider or a fundamental change in the provider’s operation. In such situations, the housing provider must discuss alternative accommodations. This discussion is referred to as the “interactive process.”
Housing providers must also allow people with disabilities to make reasonable modifications, which are structural changes that allow people with disabilities full use and enjoyment of the building.
Examples include installing grab bars in a bathroom and widening doors in an apartment. Usually, the resident must pay for the modification. However, if you live in federally assisted housing, the housing provider must pay for the modification if it does not create an undue financial and administrative burden.
Accessibility requirements for newer construction
Multifamily housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, that has four or more units and an elevator must comply with the seven design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. If the building has four or more units and does not have an elevator, the ground-floor units must comply with the design and construction requirements.
- The seven requirements are:
- Accessible entrance on an accessible route
- Accessible public and common-use areas
- Usable doors
- Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
- Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and environmental controls
- Reinforced walls in bathrooms
- Usable kitchens and bathrooms
If you live in federally assisted housing consisting of five or more units, 5 percent of these units must meet more stringent physical accessibility requirements, and 2 percent of units must be accessible to people with vision or hearing disabilities.
- Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online for more information about the housing rights of people with disabilities
- View our Housing Resources page
- Visit our Housing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page
- Get legal help
Last updated: April 10, 2014