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Rights of Tenants With Disabilities

Federal, state and local laws forbid landlords from discriminating against tenants with physical or mental disabilities. If you are disabled, you may have the right to ask your landlord to make certain changes, called “reasonable accommodations,” in order for you to fully use and enjoy your apartment.

Do You Qualify As A Disabled Person?

If you have a physical or mental disability that substantially interferes with a major life activity, such as working, walking, seeing or hearing, you are considered disabled under anti-discrimination laws.

What Are Your Rights As A Disabled Person?

Non-discrimination

You have the right not to be discriminated against by your landlord, real estate broker, or management company on account of your physical or mental disabilities. A landlord may not refuse to rent you an apartment because of your disability.

Reasonable Accommodations

You have the right ask your landlord for a “reasonable accommodation,” which is a change in the landlord’s practices and procedures, or a change to the physical space of your apartment or public areas in your building. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that is related to your specific disability and does not impose extremely high costs on your landlord or cause harm or discomfort to other tenants.

Common examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • An exception to a no-pet policy for a disabled person who needs a service animal
  • A parking space close to the building for a wheelchair-bound tenant
  • Allowing a physically disabled tenant to install grab bars in her apartment bathroom
  • Sending an extra copy of the monthly rent bill to a social worker for a mentally disabled tenant with memory loss

How Do You Ask For A Reasonable Accommodation?

Write a letter to your landlord informing her that you are a disabled person who needs a reasonable accommodation on account of your disability. Be specific about the reasonable accommodation you seek. Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records. See the sample letter below.

Who Pays For A Reasonable Accommodation?

In some cases, you must pay for the changes you request. For example, you may have to pay for grab bars and other changes to your apartment. In other cases, such as a request for a second rent notice to be sent to a relative or social worker, the costs are small and your landlord must pay. The city has a program to help remove architectural barriers for people with permanent mobility disabilities. To find out if you qualify for Project Open House, contact the Mayor’s Office on Disabilities at 212-788-2830.

What If Your Landlord Refuses Your Request?

A landlord may refuse your request for a reasonable accommodation only if the change requested would fundamentally alter her business, cost her an extremely large amount of money, or cause harm or discomfort to other tenants. If you think your landlord unreasonably refused your request, you may have the right to sue her in a court of law. You may also file a discrimination complaint with a city agency called the New York City Commission on Human Rights (212-306-7500) or a state agency called the New York State Division of Human Rights (212-961-4800). Talk to a disability advocate or lawyer about how to file a complaint or lawsuit.

Where Do These Rights Come From?

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires public entities, such as the New York City Housing Authority, to make reasonable accommodations to their policies and programs to ensure that otherwise qualified people with disabilities have access to the same services and benefits as everyone else. The federal Fair Housing Act Amendments make it unlawful for private landlords to discriminate against people with disabilities and requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for otherwise qualified people with disabilities. New York State and New York City laws also forbid discrimination against people on the basis of their disabilities, whether physical or mental.

Sample Letter Requesting A Reasonable Accommodation

Date

Landlord’s Name
Street Address
City State Zip

Dear Landlord:

I live at (street address, city, state and zip), for which you are the landlord/managing agent.

Because of my disability, a doctor has prescribed a service animal to assist with my daily living. I am requesting that you make a reasonable accommodation in the building’s “no pets” policy to allow me to have a service animal. I qualify as a person with a disability as defined by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

Under the Fair Housing Act Amendments, it is unlawful discrimination for a landlord or management company to deny a person with a disability “a reasonable accommodation of an existing building rule or policy if such accommodation may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.”

Please respond in writing to my request for a reasonable accommodation within ten days. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

This article was posted April 01, 2007