Perhaps you haven’t had a disabled individual apply for tenancy in one of your properties. Are you aware of their rights and your responsibilities in these situations? The laws protecting individuals with disabilities are numerous and complicated. Please read on for some basic pointers but remember, it is always best to consult a lawyer or hire an experienced property manager.
Right to Be Considered
First and foremost, you need to keep in mind that federal law precludes you from denying a tenant strictly based on their disability. It can be challenging to prove the reason for a denial in a courtroom, so make sure you have your bases covered.
One of the most important things to know about adhering to the Fair Housing Act is which classes of individual qualify for protection. As is relatively common, the law is broad. Protected by the FHA are any individuals with a disability, mental or physical, which makes it considerably difficult for them to perform one or more major life duties. Beyond that, the lines blur a bit. Also protected are individuals who have a past record of such a disability, as well as anyone considered by their peers to have such a disability.
In general, the laws are intended to protect anyone that may have lost a limb (or the use of a limb), their sight, or their hearing. However, it is worth noting that the act also protects the mentally challenged, mentally ill, certain alcoholics or drug addicts, and those with HIV or AIDS.
What Is Forbidden?
The presence of an accommodation request modifies certain of the below restrictions. However, in general, you aren’t allowed to do the following:
- Ask if an applicant is impaired
- Inquire about the severity of an applicant’s impairment
- Request medical records
- Suggest that an applicant inhabit a particular rental unit
- Exclude an applicant for fear of their mental illness posing a danger
What Is Allowed?
If it seems that your hands are tied, please note that you are allowed to do the below:
- Ensure that the tenant can meet the requirements of tenancy
- Determine if the applicant qualifies for a unit only available to the disabled and if they qualify for such on a priority basis
- Inquire about addiction to illegal controlled substances
- Determine if the applicant potentially poses a direct threat as a result of mental illness (with several caveats)
A disabled tenant may request an accommodation to their unit or the common areas, as long as the request is deemed a reasonable accommodation.
These requests must be related to the tenant's disability and must be a reasonable modification to the policies, practices, or services offered that will allow a disabled individual equal use of the rental property. If a request is found unreasonable, the property owner is required by law to attempt to arrive at a compromise with the disabled tenant.
This is just the beginning. The FHA greatly complicates the application and leasing process and exposes landlords to considerable risk from legal action. The good news is that its easy to find a reputable property management service that is well-versed in these requirements, and capable of helping you avoid undue expense.
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