If you are a tenant with a disability, you have certain rights under federal law. For example, you have the right to live in any rental unit regardless of the physical or other impairment you may have. These laws, called Fair Housing Acts, are in place to protect disabled renters from landlords who discriminate.
These laws protect people with either mental or physical disabilities that are very limiting, such as hearing impairment, visual impairment, mobility restrictions and mental retardation or illness. Also included are HIV/AIDs, alcoholism and drug addiction (excluding illegal drugs).
Under these laws, your landlord cannot ask whether you have a disability or cannot ask about the severity of a disability. Disabled renters must be treated the same way as a renter without a disability. The landlord cannot suggest particular units for you to rent. They cannot speculate about whether you are mentally ill and whether your illness poses a danger.
But there are legitimate questions that a landlord can ask, such as whether the tenant can meet the housing requirements. The landlord can also ask you whether you qualify for a rental unit that is only available to people with disabilities, and they can also ask if you are addicted to illegal drugs.
As a disabled renter, you have the right to accommodation for your rental, such as policy changes that offer you equal opportunity. These rules also apply to common areas like pools, laundry centers and game rooms, for example. Some common accommodations include a handicapped parking space or use of a service animal.
Your request must be related to your disability; landlords don’t have to accommodate unrelated requests. The same applies to your ability to modify your unit for safety, but your changes cannot create undesirable living conditions for other tenants.
Landlords have the right to review and approve all changes, and you will most likely have to put the unit back in its original condition after you move out. Some examples are special door handles, lower counters, or wheelchair ramps.
In some cases, you will have to provide proof of your disability to make these changes, especially if your disability is not visibly obvious. You can work with your landlord on discussing these accommodations and your plans for making them.
Forms of disability proof are a doctor’s statement, or a credible statement from a reliable third party like a treatment facility. You can also show proof that you are paid some type of disability insurance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
If you have issues with a landlord, or even suspect that discrimination may be happening, talk to an attorney. It is important to know your housing rights. These laws are in place to protect you against discrimination for your mental or physical disability. Landlords who don’t comply are in violation of federal law.