Due to fair housing laws, you can't deny a tenant because of their disability. In fact, you actually might need to make some modifications in order to accommodate a disabled renter.
Now, that doesn't mean you'll have to spend thousands of dollars remodeling your property if a disabled tenant moves in. But you will need to make what the Americans with Disabilities Act calls "reasonable modifications" if the tenant requests them.
This might include adding a front entrance ramp, widening a doorway, or putting grab bars in the bathroom, or it may mean something more minor, like giving the tenant a designated front-row parking spot or allowing service animals on the property.
If you own a multifamily property, you might also need to make some changes to common areas to make them more accessible.
Paying for property changes
The big question: Who pays for these updates? As the landlord, you're expected to cover the costs of most accommodations, as long as they don't create an "undue financial or administrative burden."
If your tenant is requesting a modification that seems unreasonable or too expensive, you can go through what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls an "interactive process." It's basically just a calm discussion with your renter in hopes of coming to some sort of compromise.
If for some reason you can't reach a compromise or you refuse to accommodate your tenant, they may have grounds to file a complaint against you with HUD's Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office.
Verifying the tenant's disability
If you're not sure your tenant is disabled or that their requested modification is directly tied to their disability, you're allowed to ask for proof. This might mean showing you their disability check or getting a note from their doctor or medical provider.
Just remember: You can't ask about the tenant's disability during the screening process. That'd be a violation of fair housing laws.
You also can't:
- Charge extra fees or a higher rent because of the tenant's disability.
- Ask about the nature of their disability or its severity.
- Steer them toward certain units or properties because of their disability.
- Require a pet deposit or pet rent for a service animal.
Do it right
The bottom line? If a tenant is requesting a modification to the property, you can ask for proof of their disability. Other than that, their disability should not be a factor in their rent, their location on your property, or in your overall treatment of them.
And if you do end up modifying your property to accommodate a disabled tenant, you may want to use a contractor experienced in ADA projects. ADA standards are pretty specific, and this will ensure your building is up to code.