The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. Indiana state law also protects ancestry. Localities may have additional protected classes.
Definition of Disability
Federal laws define a person with a disability as “Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
In general, a physical or mental impairment includes hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex, and mental retardation that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include walking, talking, hearing, seeing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, and caring for oneself.
Housing and the Rights of People with Disabilities
Regardless of whether you live in private or public housing, Federal laws provide the following rights to persons with disabilities.
- Prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.
It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability. A housing provider may not impose different application or qualification criteria, rental fees or sales prices, and rental or sales terms or conditions than those required of or provided to persons who are not disabled.
Example: A housing provider may not refuse to rent to an otherwise qualified individual with a mental disability because s/he is uncomfortable with the individual’s disability. Such an act would violate the Fair Housing Act because it denies a person housing solely on the basis of their disability.
2. Require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.
A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space. A housing provider should do everything s/he can to assist, but s/he is not required to make changes that would fundamentally alter the program or create an undue financial and administrative burden. Reasonable accommodations may be necessary at all stages of the housing process, including application, tenancy, or to prevent eviction.
Example: A housing provider would make a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with mobility impairment by fulfilling the tenant’s request for a reserved parking space in front of the entrance to their unit, even though all parking is unreserved.
3. Require housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.
A reasonable modification is a structural modification to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.
Examples of a reasonable modification would include:
- install a ramp into a building
- lower the entry threshold of a unit, or
- install grab bars in a bathroom.
Reasonable modifications are usually made at the resident’s expense. However, there are resources available for helping fund building modifications. Additionally, if you live in federally assisted housing, the housing provider may be required to pay for the modification if it does not amount to an undue financial and administrative burden.
4. Require that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.
In covered multifamily housing consisting of 4 or more units with an elevator built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, all units must comply with the following seven design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act:
- Accessible Entrance on an Accessible Route
- Accessible Public and Common-Use Areas
- Usable Doors
- Accessible Route Into and Through the Dwelling Unit
- Accessible Light Switches, Electrical Outlets, Thermostats, and Environmental Controls
- Reinforced Walls in Bathrooms
- Usable Kitchens and Bathrooms
In covered multifamily housing without an elevator that consists of 4 or more units built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, all ground floor units must comply with the Fair Housing Act seven design and construction requirements.
These requirements apply to most public and private housing. However, there are limited exemptions for owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
If you live in federally assisted multifamily housing consisting of 5 or more units, 5 percent of these units (or at least one unit whichever is greater) must meet more stringent physical accessibility requirements. Additionally, 2 percent of units (or at least one unit whichever is greater) must be accessible for persons with visual or hearing disabilities.
People with Disabilities in Federally Assisted Housing
Federal law makes it illegal for an otherwise qualified individual with a disability to be excluded from programs receiving federal financial assistance, solely because of his or her disability.
Zoning and Land Use
It is unlawful for local governments to apply land use and zoning policies that will keep persons with disabilities from locating to their area.
State and Local Laws
Many states and localities have fair housing laws that are substantially equivalent to the Federal Fair Housing Act. Some of these laws prohibit discrimination on additional bases, such as source of income or marital status. Some of these laws may impose more stringent design and construction standards for new multifamily housing.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
In most cases, the ADA does not apply to residential housing. Rather, the ADA applies to places of public accommodation such as restaurants, retail stores, libraries, and hospitals as well as commercial facilities such as offices buildings, warehouses, and factories. However, Title III of the ADA covers public and common use areas at housing developments when these public areas are, by their nature, open to the general public. For example, it covers the rental office since the rental office is open to the general public.
Title II of the ADA applies to all programs, services, and activities provided or made available by public entities. This includes housing when the housing is provided or made available by a public entity. For example, housing covered by Title II of the ADA includes public housing authorities that meet the ADA definition of “public entity,” and housing operated by States or units of local government, such as housing on a State university campus.
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