"Reasonable accommodation" on rental application

Can I ask if a rental applicant needs any accommodations for a physical disability?

A fellow landlord was stuck building a ramp to the front door of his rental house because 1 month after the tenants moved in he was informed that 1 of them had a mobility issue that wasn’t apparent (and never mentioned) when he showed the house. They also wanted the washer and dryer moved upstairs from the basement but he pointed out that providing a washer and dryer was optional on his part and would just remove them if they forced the issue. The house was built in 1940 and obviously wasn’t designed for somebody with mobility issues so that brings up the question, why did they even apply if they knew the house wasn’t as accessible as they needed?

So can I ask? I could see adding a short handrail for the single step that goes up the the kitchen but having someone move in and then expect the doorways all be 3’ would be a little (okay, a lot) too much.

IANAL, but in the US the Fair Housing Act prohibits asking this sort of question from my simple understanding.


As I understand it, the Act exempts … single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent.

This strikes me as a lawyer question.

There must be some sort of reasonable criteria here because it would be unreasonable for a landlord to be required to re-engineer a housing unit.

Where I current live the second floor of apartments throughout the complex are accessible only via staircase. There is no way to install a lift as they stairways are all outside, exposed to the elements, and space is limited. On the other hand, they do have many of the apartments on the first floor at grade level, no ramps required as there are absolutely no steps. So they would be able to rent to someone with mobility issues… except the entryway to the bathrooms are cramped. Pretty sure there’s some grandfathering of the whole place which was built 50 years ago before all these requirements were brought in.

What constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” is going to vary.

It wouldn’t happen in this country, even though disabled people get a lot of help. Public buildings, like shops, restaurants and public offices, are required to make all practicable efforts to provide wheelchair access, but ‘practicable’ is a key word, and there are still many older places where customers and visitors have to climb stairs. New builds are always accessible, as are buses and trains.

Private houses are a different case and landlords have no obligation to adapt their houses any more than car manufacturers are obliged to adapt their cars. It would surely be up to the buyer/renter to make sure that the accommodation was suitable before signing the contact.

Actually there are stair lifts and chair lifts engineered to go outside - for people retrofitting their residences or businesses. I would imagine that the apartment complex owners are more concerned with random vandalism of one - the stairlift in my house has a firm 250 pound limit - the poor thing would have issues with some idiot deciding to load it with weights from a lifting set and joyriding it up and down til it broke just for chuckles.

In the O.P. it’s possible the mobility issues arose after the lease had been signed, e.g. having knee surgery or getting injured in some way, after having moved in.

I don’t see anything addressing the issue one way or the other, in my current lease. Guessing the property manager simply hopes the issue won’t come up.

Just an observation that “reasonable accommodation” is an excellent phrase to proffer during discussions where it fits. I was on a flight once (pre-COVID19) and my hearing loss became an issue. I took out my phone, began shooting video, then said, “So then, you’re saying that despite my hearing loss you are unwilling to offer a reasonable accommodation.”

Those were the magic words. She immediately got her boss who apologized profusely and treated me like we were bestest friends. It literally went from “sit down and shut up” to “another soft drink sir, maybe a pillow?”

which is?

I think you pretty much nailed it. A relatively minor structural change like adding a handrail or a ramp, something that’s not going to require extensive work and probably costs less than a month’s rent is fairly reasonable. Massive structural change are not.

There is also the word “reasonable” in there. Would it be reasonable to expect the owners to procure, install, and maintain the lift or would it be reasonable to provide a grade-level apartment to the prospective tenant? The grade-level choice would have the advantage of never needing to worry about a lift breaking down at night, on a weekend, holiday, or during a power outage or emergency as well. The square footage, layout, and amenities of the grade-level units are the same as for those on the second floor (I know this because when I was looking for an apartment I was shown several in the complex).

Reasonable is “we have units with grade-level entrances available for you to rent”. Unreasonable would be a demand for second-floor units that would require installation of a lift.

^ And this.

According to the Fair Housing Act, accessibility requirements apply to multifamily buildings built since 1991. Units on the ground floor or units that can be reached by elevator are required to meet a level of accessibility. There are seven requirements:

1 – Accessible Building Entrance on an Accessible Route
2 – Accessible and Usable Public and Common Use Areas
3 – Usable Doors (32" minimum clear width, low or no threshold)
4 – Accessible Route into and Through the Covered Unit (minimum 36" wide hallways)
5 – Light Switches, Electrical Outlets, Thermostats, and Other Environmental Controls in Accessible Locations (switches max 48" above floor, outlets min 15" above floor)
6 – Reinforced Walls for Grab Bars (not the actual grab bars - tenant must have them installed)
7 – Usable Kitchens and Bathrooms (30" x 48" clear floor space in front of appliances and sinks; maneuvering room in bathrooms)

It may also be a matter of climate. Broomstick lives somewhere in the Midwest - where winter is a very real thing. My in-laws live in a retirement condo in southern Florida - and the 2-story buildings all have outdoor lifts. Even with that, the in-laws did not even consider a 2nd-floor unit because they’d heard tales of those lifts breaking down and being out of service for 24-48 hours. If you are wheelchair bound, that means you have no way of exiting the building.

I suspect that adding ice/snow to the mixture would just enhance the maintenance concerns of such a lift. If I needed the use of one, I would not consider a building where that was the only option.

A ramp may very well require extensive work. I worked in a school building where there was an old classroom that couldn’t be used as a classroom because you had to go up two steps to get to it. When the school board looked into putting in a ramp to make it accessible, they discovered that to meet ADA requirements the ramp would take up most of the width of the hall and be 15 1/2 feet long - enough to block the entrances to 4 other classrooms, a janitor’s closet, and the office I worked in.

Indeed. Here’s an example of a pretty simple ramp that looks to be a kit. https://goo.gl/maps/ZBhcUmEvHN9n7Uxy8 Nevertheless, I can still see this costing easily into four figures, especially if you don’t have friends to help assemble it. This may or may not run afoul of zoning laws in some jurisdictions, but it also killed an off-street parking spot too, which can be a problem in and of itself.

I think it’s been pretty well covered by previous posters, but this situation does seem like borderline extortion. The laws regulating accessibility apply to new construction and remodels of a certain extent, not existing buildings, especially not single-family homes.

Now, I think the more interesting discussion is what would constitute reasonable accommodation for someone who was an established tenant and then became disabled in some way, as @purplehorseshoe suggested. Some quick Googling suggests that the tenant may actually be the one required to pay for structural modifications, and they may also be required to restore the place to its previous state upon leaving. That’s why in many cases where someone is injured, the cost of moving to an accessible apartment is part of the injury lawsuit settlement, workers compensation claim, or other insurance payout. They still generally have to move though. So expecting a landlord to pay for and install ramps, widen doors, and replace cabinetry for a brand new tenant who knew what sort of place they were renting is beyond the pale, but IANAL.

I am pretty sure zoning laws are required to abide by the ADA “reasonable accommodations” requirement as well. If there is a conflict between the two I believe the ADA takes precedent.

Federal regulations do not apply to single family homes - only to multi-family buildings of four or more units. Also only applies to buildings built since 1991. Unless there is a state or local law, I do not see how the landlord in the OP could be compelled to modify the property.

Even in housing units covered by Federal regulations, there is a difference between reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification. Reasonable accommodation is “a relatively simple change to rules, policies, practices, and/or services to give a person with a disability equal access to a unit or common area.” Examples are waiving no pet rules to allow a guide dog or providing a handicapped parking space near the unit.

Reasonable modification means “landlords must allow a person with a disability to make reasonable changes to a housing unit if such changes are needed by the individual for the full use and enjoyment on the unit.” The landlord is not required to pay for such modifications, can require that modification be done in a professional manner following building codes, and can require the tenant to restore the unit to original condition before leaving.

Note that the ADA applies to workplaces and public spaces, not to residences (other than common areas within residential buildings - for example a shared swimming pool must be accessible per ADA standards).