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THE RIGHTS OF TENANTS WITH DISABILITIES

Tenants with physical or mental disabilities have certain civil and human rights under federal, state, and city laws.  The common goal of all three layers of laws is to “level the playing field”:  to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunity as people without disabilities to enjoy and use their apartments and their residence’s common and public areas.  Serving as protections, this group of fair-housing and human-rights laws makes it unlawful for “housing providers” ― property owners, landlords, housing-management companies, and co-op boards, among others – and their employees to discriminate against tenants with disabilities.

 

Consequently, housing providers and their employees are prohibited by law from subjecting tenants with disabilities to terms or conditions that differ from – are stricter or less favorable than – those they require of tenants without disabilities.  This prohibition applies equally to double standards regarding privileges and treatment, such as management refusing to respond to maintenance calls or responding more slowly because of a tenant’s disability, or making threatening or intimidating remarks to a tenant because of his or her disability.

 

In addition, to eliminate both policy and physical barriers to the maximum personal use by tenants with disabilities of their rental units and common and public-use areas associated with their residence, the law prohibits housing providers and their employees from refusing to honor the request by a tenant with a disability for:

 

A reasonable accommodation.  This is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common spaces.  The accommodation requested must be related to the disability of the person making the request.  It also must not require a housing provider to rack up unreasonable financial or administrative costs, or alter the essential nature of a housing provider’s operations.  Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation.

 

Examples of reasonable accommodations: A landlord notifies a tenant with multiple chemical sensitivities in advance of painting and pest treatments.  A landlord assists an applicant with a mental disability in filling out required forms or paperwork.  If a tenant with a disability needs oral reminders to pay the rent, the landlord agrees to call or visit to remind the person before each month’s rent is due.  A landlord makes an exception to the building’s “no pets” rule for people with disabilities who use guide dogs or other service or emotional support animals.  A tenant with a disability is permitted to move from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment to have space for her live-in care provider.

 

A reasonable modification. This is a structural change to be made to the interior or exterior of the unit of a person with a disability that may be necessary to afford her or him full enjoyment of the premises.  The exterior includes common and public-use areas.  The reasonableness of a proposed modification hinges predominantly on two factors:  a relationship between the disability of the person making the request and the intended modification, and assurance that the modification will be done properly and will comply with all necessary building and architectural codes.  While the housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for the cost of the modification, except if the housing provider receives federal funds.

 

Examples of reasonable modifications: Widening doorways to make rooms more accessible for persons in wheelchairs; lowering kitchen cabinets to a height suitable for persons in wheelchairs.  Installing grab bars in bathrooms.  Replacing door knobs with levers for a person with arthritis.  Installing an automatic water faucet shut-off for people who can’t remember to turn off the water.  Installing pictures or color-coded signs for people whose cognitive disabilities make written signs impossible to use.  Disconnecting a stove and installing a microwave for a person unable to operate a stove safely.  Installing carpeting or acoustic tiles to reduce to reduce noise made by a person whose disability causes him or her to make a lot of noise.

 

 

IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE BEEN THE VICTIM OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION, YOU CAN FILE A COMPLAINT WITH ONE OF THESE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES:

 

The New York State Division of Human Rights

One Fordham Plaza, 4th Plaza

Bronx, NY 10458

718-741-8400; Toll-free number:  1-888-392-3644

New York City Commission on Human Rights

40 Rector Street, 9th Floor

New York, NY

212-306-7450

 

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

26 Federal Plaza, Room 3532

New York, NY 10278

212-264-5072; Toll-free number:  1-800-496-4294

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

  • “Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act,” Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2004
  • “Reasonable Modifications Under the Fair Housing Act,” Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008
  • “What ‘Fair Housing’ Means for People with Disabilities,” Bazelton Center for Mental Health Law, June 2006
  • Fair Housing Guide:  Know Your Rights, New York State Division of Human Rights