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By Glenn Mananeng
All tenants have rights to housing and those with disabilities are no exception, additionally, those with disabilities have unique rights under state and federal law. We often hear about people being evicted from the rental property and many of these people are people with disabilities who cannot afford rent or fall behind due to medical bills or low pay from Social Security benefits.
Millions of Americans are affected by disabilities struggle to find a place to rent. In fact, 1 out of 5 people in the U.S. have a high chance of acquiring some type of disability according to the Census Bureau. It is of utmost importance to understand their rights in order to provide a proper place for them to live comfortably.
The Federal Housing Act (FHA) has set a very broad description as to what qualifies as a disability. Under federal law, these disabilities have certain qualities such as:
Must limit one’s major life activities
This covers anything as simple as walking, talking, breathing, manually performing tasks, or caring for oneself. If it significantly affects at least one or more of these activities or something similar, the disability should be considered.
It doesn’t have to be obvious
The disability does not have to be noticeable to other people regardless of how much time they see or spend time with you. For example, a person suffering from asthma may seem normal to anyone unless there is an obvious breathing issue due to an emergent attack. A landlord is not legally permitted to ask a resident or prospective applicant about a disability.
Doesn’t require the use of an assistive device
People with mobility disabilities can still qualify under FHA rules even without the need of assistive devices such as wheelchairs, canes, or walkers. The same also applies for those with hearing impairments where there wouldn’t be a need for a hearing aid.
Physical disabilities aren’t the only ones included
Mental illness, chronic fatigue, and learning disabilities are included as part of the FHA’s definition.
Addictions are included as well
Individuals suffering from drug or alcohol addiction can qualify as long as they are currently part of a rehabilitation program.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS (ESA)
As the name implies, they provide support and comfort especially for those suffering from mental health issues. They help their owners cope with daily life and alleviates their condition a little bit better. There is a clear difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal.
The former is well-trained to perform specific tasks to support a physically disabled person. One of the most common service animals are guide dogs for the visually impaired. ESAs on the other hand provides support and companionship to people with mental health problems.
If you’re in need of such a companion, you need to request an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist). The letter should confirm your mental condition, explain how limiting the disability is when it comes to day-today activities, elaborate how an ESA helps improve your well-being, and should be signed by the medical professional.
As long as one has an ESA letter, the landlord can’t deny housing to that individual. This means that the landlord cannot charge a pet fee even if the rental property follows a NO PET POLICY.
WHAT IS REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
This refers to modifications in the rental property which will enable the tenant with a disability to fully use amenities and features of the home as easy as possible. Some of these may include adding a ramp for wheelchair use, widening of doorways, adding grab bars in the bathroom, and even lowering kitchen countertops.
In the event that the landlord receives government funding to maintain housing, there is a chance that they have to cover the renovation costs. However, if a landlord accepts Section 8 tenants, they would not have to pay for the modification.
If a tenant needs the modification to the property but can’t afford the cost, there are a few resources to help fund it. Local fair housing centers are available in almost every community. In Michigan, most of them are divided into different areas throughout the state from Metropolitan Detroit, Southeast and Mid, Southwest, and West Michigan.
A landlord cannot deny or refuse reasonable accommodation to their rental property not unless it would somehow change the layout of the whole building, be unreasonably expensive or impossible to do so, or would pose a physical hazard to other tenants.
Regardless of one’s situation, no one shouldn’t be denied housing. Landlords should always treat tenants equally despite disabilities. There’s nothing more important than working with professionals who have a deep understanding of Fair Housing Laws, especially people with disabilities.
For additional information about Michigan Fair Housing Laws, you can check out our Tenant Section here. To learn more about property management services that we provide, you can call us at (734) 744-5080 or send us an email at [email protected].