Accessibility and Rental Property – A Complete Guide for Landlords

Accessibility and Rental Property – A Complete Guide for Landlords

This article will explain how landlords can ensure that their rental properties are safe, accessible, and law compliant at all times

A disabled man in a wheelchair

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act came into being. It’s the most comprehensive and far-reaching legislation that ensures US Citizens who are disabled aren’t discriminated against in any area of public life, whether that’s within education, work, transport, or housing.

Housing and renting policies are covered under ADA law, meaning that landlords who rent out homes and properties to people who are disabled, must be aware of their responsibilities towards their tenants.

The best kinds of property managers are those who can provide an exemplary standard of living accommodation to their tenants, who charge fair rental rates, and who respond appropriately and effectively to any issues that arise with their properties and the people renting them. This is becoming even more important as we see more people living longer lives and therefore needing extended access to health and social care.

How can landlords ensure that their rental properties are safe, accessible, and law compliant at all times? Our go-to guide deals with all this.

Who might be considered a disabled tenant?

Firstly, it’s important to note that the ADA states a landlord has no legal right to enquire about the nature of a prospective tenant’s disability, even if it is a visible one – i.e. if they perhaps walk with a stick, use a mobility scooter or wheelchair or are visually or hearing impaired.

According to the ADA, to be considered disabled the following statement must apply: “A person must have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities”. Some of the conditions that are included in this definition are:

  • Hearing impairments: Partial or complete deafness as a result of injury, or present from birth.
  • Mobility impairments: Including use of a wheelchair, walking, or mobility aids
  • Visual impairments: Partial or full blindness.
  • Mental impairments: This includes conditions like alcoholism and drug addiction. In these cases, the person must be seeking help from a treatment facility. Other complex mental health conditions like schizophrenia or psychosis are covered under this too. 

This list isn’t exhaustive and it’s worth making sure the full list of conditions and illnesses are studied properly.

A landlord of a property has no legal right to ask for any proof of illness or disability during the application process for a rental property. There are circumstances in which this changes though. For instance, if an application to live in accommodation is approved and the tenant requests more accommodations be made to assist them. In this instance, the landlord can ask for proof that what the tenant is asking for will actually help them and make the property more functional.

Being a Good Landlord to a Disabled Tenant

  • Respond Effectively To Issues
  • Be Willing To Make Reasonable Modifications To Accommodate a Disability
  • Be Aware of Your Responsibilities as LandLord.

Is it OK for a landlord to turn down a disabled tenant?

The short answer is ‘no’. A landlord can’t turn a tenant down because they are disabled. When looking at the reasons for not allowing someone to rent a property, they must treat a disabled tenant in the same way an able-bodied tenant would be treated. A rental company or landlord would look at their behavior:

  • Have they been evicted from a lot of properties? 
  • Have they had any issues with other landlords? 
  • Do they pay their rent on time? 
  • Have they ever gotten into arrears? 

If the answers to these questions mean that they’re a desirable and good tenant then a landlord must consider them.

Disabled tenants also can’t be rejected because a landlord ‘feels’ they might be a risk to other tenants or the property. They must be viewed in terms of their renting conduct – and not how the landlord thinks they might act. For example, if a tenant has mental health challenges, but they have an exemplary rental record, they can’t be refused on that basis.

What would give you grounds for refusal is if, for instance, a disabled tenant has used threatening behavior towards others or has a track record of violence. In that instance, a landlord would be able to refuse.

Decisions like these can be tricky, and a bit of a minefield. It’s advised that landlords should always seek advice and help from a professional rental management company so they’re protected and stay within the law at all times.

Current Florida law states that a landlord is prohibited from evicting a tenant without going through the court system and they would need a judge’s order to do so. 
If a sheriff shows up to evict a tenant, they must also have a court order allowing them to do that. There is only one exception to this rule and that is if a tenant has deliberately abandoned the property. These laws apply to both disabled and able-bodied tenants.

Reasonable adjustments and reasonable modifications to a property

It’s required under the law that landlords make reasonable adjustments to a property so that tenants with disabilities can live there in a way that best meets their needs and requirements. 

With that in mind, what is considered a reasonable adjustment? Typically, it’s defined as “a change in rules, policies, or services that enable a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home and any common spaces”

The landlord would be required by law to accommodate a person with a disability, so long as that did not mean that they were taking on an undue or unnecessary financial burden in adapting a property. There are some standard accommodation requests that should be met without issue and these are:  

  • Installing wheelchair access ramps and chair lifts: If a tenant uses a wheelchair then a ramp will need to be installed at any entrances to the property and inside, if there are steps that lead up to rooms on any floor. If renting a house out, and not an apartment, a landlord may also need to think about installing a chair lift too for access to other floors. 
  • Installation of railings: For disabled tenants, with visual impairments or mobility issues railings must be installed along the correct interior walls, such as in the bathroom where incidences of slips and falls are likely to be higher. They may also be useful in the kitchen too. Railings must also be installed on exterior walls where a tenant needs access, too. 
  • Providing a reserved parking spot at the front of a building: At properties that offer parking as opposed to a garage facility, then the landlord must be able to provide parking that is close enough to the property and very easily accessible. A disabled tenant has the right to pick the most easily accessible parking spot. 
  • Showering and bathing facilities: If a property has a bath only, then grab rails must be installed for safety. In properties that require a shower, it’s better to have a roll-in shower installed – or a current shower adapted as these can accommodate users who need a wheelchair. Having a shower attachment fitted over the bath can also help, and shower stools can be bought and installed relatively inexpensively. 
  • Widened doorways: Doorways in a property must be widened to accommodate wheelchair access. Commonly, adaptations must be at least 34 inches (for exterior doors) and 32 inches (for interior doors) to allow safe and proper access. 
  • Allowing service animals in a unit where pets are not usually welcome: Disabled people who require service animals must have this request met, as the animal is considered a worker and not a pet. 
  • Large print or braille information documents: Have any documents containing information relating to property printed in braille and/or large print to allow tenants with visual impairments to be able to read and understand what is in the property and how to look after it. Braille features can now be added to common home gadgets like washing machines, dishwashers, and HVAC equipment to make them accessible. 

What would be considered a reasonable modification to a property? Well, in this instance, it would be a modification that would allow someone with a disability to be able to freely move around and enjoy the use of their housing and any related facilities, without restriction. 

Any property modifications that are carried out need to be approved by the landlord and then only carried out by properly licensed contractors and tradesmen. It would be common practice for these to be in the property until the tenant leaves. After which time the property can be restored to its original condition.

Financial aspects of property modification

When considering the financial aspects of property modification to make a property more accessible for a disabled person – the landlord is the person responsible for paying for these. However, the requests and financial outlay must be reasonable. 

For the most part, modifications would be low cost – think for example about installing a grab rail over a bath, or making sure there is a wide enough parking space provided. 

In some instances, a request can be considered unreasonable – that is to say, it would be too time-consuming or costly and can be refused. An example of this would be a tenant asking for an elevator to be installed in a property. That’s going to take too much time, cost a lot, and in the event the tenant leaves – costly to reverse. In this situation, it’s perfectly OK as a landlord to refuse.

What Not to Do as a Landlord to a Disabled Tenant or Applicant

  • Do Not Ask About Their Disability
  • Do Not Turn Down an Applicant Based on A Disability
  • Do Not Refuse Making Reasonable Modifications to the Property

What are my rights and responsibilities as a Landlord in Florida?

Laws can vary from state to state, so it’s always worth checking the individual rules and regulations anywhere in the USA.

Here we’ll look at some simple laws pertaining to landlords in Florida. As previously mentioned a landlord isn’t allowed to discriminate against any tenant for being disabled. However, in the event that they no longer wish to rent the property to a tenant, they are allowed to give 15 days written notice to them. This letter should specify the date the tenancy will end. 

In circumstances where a disabled tenant has not paid any rent or has violated other terms of the agreement, a landlord can legally give less than 15 days. This same 15-day period applies to the tenant as well, if they wish to vacate the property. 

As a landlord your responsibility to your Florida property requires you to stick to the following rules and regulations. 

If a landlord lets a family home or duplex or apartment, you must ensure that you comply with all building, housing, and health codes. These regulations apply: 

  • Ensure that any plumbing is in good condition
  • Make sure the roof is in good repair 
  • Look after windows
  • Keep floors in good condition
  • Ensure steps, porches, and exterior walls are in good repair and capable of maintaining loads

As a landlord of any type or property, it’s also your responsibility to ensure that there are reasonable provisions for the following: 

  • Extermination of any pests. 
  • The locks and keys are all in working order. 
  • Clean and safe conditions of common areas including gardens. 
  • Garbage disposal facilities and outside receptacles should all be neat and kept clean. 
  • Functioning facilities for running water, hot water, and heat during winter should always be in working order and repaired swiftly in the event they break down. 

A landlord isn’t obliged to pay for utilities, water, fuel, or garbage removal, although they may choose to do so as part of an ongoing agreement with a tenant, disabled or otherwise. 

Renting a property to a disabled tenant is, to all intents and purposes, the same as renting to an able-bodied person in terms of your legal requirements. 

The only difference may be making some superficial or more far-reaching adaptations to your property to make it easier for them to access and live in safely. 

Many adaptations can often be easily reversed in the event a tenant decides to move on, or if you wish to sell your property at a later date.

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