Does My Rental Have to be ADA Compliant?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and made a lot of changes about how construction is done. The Act sought to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It makes certain requirements to have reasonable accommodations given in public places or private places open to the general public. Your rental property applies.

As you know, I’m not an attorney, so if you are contemplating making changes for the ADA, you need to find one to answer your questions. Here are a few generalities I’ve encountered:

  1. A person with a disability must have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  2. A person with a disability doesn’t necessarily require an assistance device to have that disability. For instance, someone with limited mobility isn’t required to use a walker to receive reasonable accommodations.
  3. There’s limits on what you can ask about a disability. In general, if the disability is readily-apparent, you can’t ask prospective tenants about it. If it is not readily apparent, and the tenant reports it to you, you can ask for documentation, generally limited to evidence that the disability is present. You can ask follow up questions necessary to gauge the extent of reasonableness of a particular accommodation. Document well what was discussed.
  4. A prospective tenant doesn’t have to disclose the disability unless requesting accommodation. Best practice for landlords is to not ask whether disabilities are present, just appropriately respond to accommodation requests.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

Reasonable Accommodations are changes in policies or rules that help accommodate the disability a tenant has. If the building’s typical lease requires rent payment to be dropped in a box outside the office, but the office distant from a unit a person with limited mobility rents, the landlord might accommodate this tenant by picking up the rent from the tenant so they don’t have to walk so far.

What About Modifications?

A modification is some physical alteration to the property, such as a rent dropbox outside the door to a unit. Unless the landlord is installing these modifications on every building, the landlord doesn’t need to immediately make these changes as would a public library or public new construction. If the tenant requests a modification, it needs to be reasonable (not well defined in the law), but the tenant generally has to pay for the cost of the modification. The exception would be if the building was built after March 13, 1991 (Fair Housing Act) and is not in compliance with the Fair Housing Act or if the property used any federal funds for its construction.

If the tenant paid for the modification and that modification would interfere with the next tenant’s use of the unit, the landlord can require the tenant to pay to have it brought back to what it was before the modification. A rent dropbox probably doesn’t interfere with new tenants’ use, so the tenant wouldn’t have to pay for its removal. The landlord could remove it on their dime, however.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more detail to it than I can give here, so I again advise you to seek legal advice well in advance to leasing up your next unit. There are a lot of people with disabilities and you will want to help them as much as possible, but also stay within the confines of the law.

Dr. Equity

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