Regardless of whether you live in private or public housing, the federal Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Ordinance of the City of Durham provide rights to persons with disabilities.
Am I entitled to changes needed to live in my rented apartment or house?
If you or a person living with you has a disability, you may request a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification if such is necessary for you to use and enjoy your home.
Reasonable Accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, procedure or practice. For example, if you have a mobility impairment, you may ask the landlord to amend the “first come-first serve” policy for parking in the lot and assign you a parking space close to the entryway of your unit. The landlord or property provider is responsible for the cost associated with providing a reasonable accommodation.
Reasonable Modification is a structural change to your home. For example, you may ask permission to have your front door widened if it is not wide enough for your wheelchair. The tenant is responsible for the cost of a reasonable modification.
What if I have a Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal?
Assistance animals work for the benefit of a person with a disability; or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. If your dwelling has a “no pet” policy, you can request a reasonable accommodation to permit your service or emotional support animal. After all, your animal is not a pet. If you have a service or an emotional support animal, your landlord should not charge you a pet deposit and should not limit the size or the breed of your pet. More on Assistance Animals
My landlord denied my request; now what?
A landlord may deny your request if the accommodation or modification you requested is not “reasonable.” For example, if you are a wheelchair user it might not be reasonable to have a ramp installed that reaches the third floor. However, it might be reasonable for your landlord to transfer you to a lower level without a transfer fee; or allow you to break your lease to move to a community that has accessible units. Also, if you request to have a service animal with a documented history of being threatening or causing damage, it might be reasonable for your landlord to deny your request. You and your landlord should engage in communication to discover whether there are reasonable alternatives to your request.
You can file a housing discrimination complaint if you were denied a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification.
What else should I know?
- Your landlord should not ask specific questions about your disability such as your diagnosis. The landlord may ask for clarification to discover whether the requested accommodation/modification has a nexus (or a related connection) with your disability if the need is not readily apparent;
- Your landlord may not deny your rental application based on his/her concern that you will request an accommodation/modification, or based on his/her assumption that you do not have the ability to live in your home without assistance;
- Service animals do not have to be formally trained. You should be able to describe to your landlord what your animal does to assist you, such as helping you cross the street, etc.;
- You should put your requests for an accommodation/modification in writing and retain a copy of that request;
- Multi-family buildings (apartments) built after March 13, 1991 should have been built with certain features to accommodate persons with disabilities. Therefore, the financial responsibility to make modifications might be the property owner’s.
Signs of Possible Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities
- Refusing to rent or sell to you because of your disability or a relative's disability
- Being charged extra fees, such as a higher deposit, or higher rent
- Being told the unit just rented, even though it has an "available unit" sign
- Refusal to allow assistance animals because of a "no pets" policy
- Refusal to permit reasonable modifications, such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars
- Being asked for a medical history to prove you have a disability or to prove you can live independently
- Being told you won't be safe, neighbors won't want you there, or the neighborhood is not "right" for you
- Terms, conditions, or availability change between phone contact and an in-person visit
- Filling out an application and waiting an unreasonable time for a decision