The federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination in housing based on a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.
What Is a Disability?
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against individuals who have disabilities or who are associated with people with disabilities.
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, working, caring for oneself. People who are regarded as disabled or have a record of a disability are also protected.
Examples of disabilities include:
- Hearing, mobility, and visual impairments
- Chronic mental illness
- AIDS/HIV+ status
- Developmental disabilities
- Alcoholism and past drug addiction
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
- Allowing a service or assistance animal, despite a no-pet policy
- Allowing a tenant to have a live-in aide who is not on the lease to assist with daily care
- Assigning a reserved parking space to a tenant with a mobility impairment, even if parking is typically “first come/first served”
What is an Assistance or Service Animal?
Under the FHA, an assistance animal (also called an “emotional support animal,” “ESA,” “support animal,” or “therapy animal”) is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. This is broader than “service animals” permitted in places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
While landlords may have restrictions on pets in their properties – including prohibiting them completely – those rules may have to be modified if a person needs an assistance animal to accommodate their disability.
What is a Reasonable Modification?
A reasonable modification is a physical change to a unit or common area that allows a person with a disability to fully use and enjoy the premises. In situations involving a private landlord, the person making the request generally must pay the cost of the modifications.
- Installing a ramp
- Installing grab bars in the bathroom
- Widening doorways
- Installing lever door handles
Does Housing Have to be Accessible?
May a Landlord Ask about a Person’s Disability?
Inquiries into the nature or existence of someone’s disability are generally prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.
- If someone requests a reasonable accommodation or modification and his/her disability is not obvious or otherwise known, the provider may ask for verification.
- If the housing is designed for people with disabilities and the question is to determine program eligibility.
Examples of Possible Discrimination
“Sorry, but after we spoke on the phone we rented the last unit.”
“You look fine to me. Why are you getting disability payments?”
“We don’t rent to people with AIDS.”
“You must obtain liability insurance because of your service animal.”
“We don’t allow tenants to install accessibility features because we have ‘ADA’ units.”
“Can you live independently?”
“I have to charge you a pet deposit for your assistance animal.”
What you should do if you believe you have experienced housing discrimination:
- Contact the Fair Housing Project and report the discrimination to us.
- Keep a journal of incidents of discrimination.
- Write down what you experienced, including names, dates, addresses, rental terms, and any other details about your interaction.
- Keep any documents related to the discrimination, including all emails and text communications.
- Following the incident, you have one year to file an administrative complaint or two years to file a lawsuit in court.
Contact the Fair Housing Project. The Fair Housing Project is available to provide information concerning a person’s rights under the federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of housing discrimination, contact us by clicking here or by phone at 1-855-797-3247.