A Disability Accommodation Request Letter is a letter written by a tenant, or potential tenant, with a disability to request housing accommodations (or modifications) to ensure they have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a property.
The primary law governing these requests is The Fair Housing Act.
How to Make a Reasonable Accommodation Request for a Disability
The Fair Housing Act does not provide specific rules for requesting a reasonable accommodation or modification. The individual does not have to use certain language or even make reference to the Fair Housing Act to make a valid request.
However, to increase the chances of receiving your requested accommodation, individuals should take the following steps when requesting a reasonable accommodation from a landlord for a disability:
- Ask Early. As soon as you know that a reasonable accommodation is necessary you should make your request to the landlord. The earlier you let the landlord know, the quicker you will receive a decision on your reasonable accommodation.
- Ask in Writing. While you can make your request to the landlord in person, there are significant benefits to having the request in writing.
- It is easier to explain your disability and the reason why you are requesting a reasonable accommodation.
- It will help remind your landlord of your request. With a landlord’s many responsibilities, they may forget your request if they are only told them in person or over the phone.
- A written request can detail any specific information the landlord will need to know to ensure they make the appropriate accommodation or modification.
- Follow up with the Landlord. After making your request, you should follow up in person or over the phone. During this discussion, you can ask them if they have any concerns about your request and the timeframe on when they can provide the requested accommodation. Also, make sure to thank the landlord for taking the time to address this need.
You are not limited to requesting one reasonable accommodation. If your disability requires multiple accommodations or modifications to fully use and enjoy the property then provide all of your requests to the landlord.
What to Include in a Letter Requesting Accommodation for Disability
Depending on one’s disability and the type of reasonable accommodation, this letter may contain a variety of information. When writing a Letter to Landlord Requesting Accommodation for Disability, think about those things that would help make the need for a reasonable accommodation clear to the landlord.
When writing this letter you should include the following specific information:
- Landlord’s name and address.
- A brief description of who you are and the reason for writing the letter.
- The property address should be included if you are a current tenant. If you are a potential tenant you can provide the address for the property you are applying to rent.
- A brief statement about the request you are making and your qualification under the applicable law (e.g. The Fair Housing Act).
- A brief description of the type of disability you have and what it limits you from doing.
- The specific accommodation or modification you are requesting. You need to make sure the connection between your disability and the requested accommodation is clear.
- Description of the protections provided under the law.
- Reference to any attachments such as a verification of disability letter from your doctor or specific policies you are basing your request on.
- A specific time for the landlord to respond to the request.
- Tenant contact information.
- Tenant Signature.
How Much Information Should You Provide?
Your letter does not have to go into great detail about your disability. In fact, the law does not even require you to disclose your specific disability. You only must provide enough information to show your need for a reasonable accommodation. For some, this is a relief if they are concerned about stigmatization because of a disability.
Still, you may want to consider the following reasons for providing more information then you are required:
- Persuasiveness. It is hard to be persuasive if you are requesting an accommodation for an undisclosed disability. While possible, it will certainly be more difficult if one does not disclose the details of their disability.
- Sympathy. If you are honest about the struggles you encounter with your disability it may lead to a landlord being more sympathetic to your situation. If they are sympathetic to your situation, then they are more likely to grant your requested accommodation.
How to Send Your Letter
It is important you can confirm that the landlord received your request for a reasonable accommodation. Ideally, you want to send your letter in a way that requires signature confirmation to prove it was received. This can be accomplished by certified mail. Even better, send it by restricted certified mail which requires the landlord to be the only person that can sign for the letter.
You should keep a copy of this letter filed with a notation of the means used to deliver the letter and any other relevant information.
Disability Verification Letters
Depending on the nature of your request and disability you may want or need to provide additional information along with your letter. A verification letter from a healthcare or other professional can go a long way in getting your reasonable accommodation approved. Depending on your disability, this letter could be from a doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or other qualified individuals that can speak with expertise about your disability.
When to provide a Verification Letter
It may be that your disability is not readily apparent. If that is the case, you may want to provide a letter from the appropriate healthcare or other professional to both confirm your disability and support the specific accommodation or request you require to have full use and enjoyment of the property.
A professional can provide the necessary detail to prove to a landlord that you are indeed disabled. Having your disability verified by a licensed professional, in addition to your letter, can ensure your reasonable accommodation is approved.
What Should be Included in a Verification Letter
While you are not the one writing a verification letter, if you are submitting one with your letter you want to make sure it is professional and contains the necessary information to support your request. Whether you are requesting this letter from a doctor or some other professional, they may have never written a letter for this specific reason before.
When requesting a letter to support your accommodation request, make sure to ask them to include the following:
- Official Stationery. The letter needs to provide proof that it is not a forgery by the tenant. Having it on the professional’s official stationery helps confirm with the landlord that it is legitimate.
- Background. The letter should start by providing some background on the professional. For instance, if they are a doctor, they should state what kind of doctor they are and how long they have been practicing medicine.
- Relationship. The professional should also state their relationship with you and how long they have known you in their professional capacity.
- Description of Disability. The professional should describe your disability in enough detail as necessary to show that you have a legitimate disability. The professional can provide details, if you agree, to help better explain the condition as well as how it has directly impacted you (hospitalizations, physical limitations, etc.).
- Specific Situation. The professional should be aware of your housing situation and provide detail on how that situation would cause a hardship to a person with your type of disability.
- Accommodation. Finally, the letter should support the accommodation you are requesting and make clear why it is necessary for either your health or to properly enjoy the use of the property.
Understanding Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications
The Fair Housing Act
The primary law that details the requirements for providing reasonable accommodations and modifications for individuals with a disability is The Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Broadly, it prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.
As it pertains to disabilities The Fair Housing Act prohibits the following:’
- Discriminating against a potential or current tenant due to their disability or the disability of anyone associated with them;
- Treating persons with disabilities less favorably than others because of their disability; and
- Refusing residency because of a disabled individual’s need for a reasonable accommodation.
The requirements of The Fair Housing Act apply to:
- Property owners
- Housing Managers
- Real Estate Agents
- Brokerage Services
Who Qualifies as Disabled?
To make a request for accommodation or modification an individual must have a disability. The Fair Housing Act considers a person with a disability to include:
- Individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- Substantially Limits – the limitation is significant or to a large degree
- Major life activity – activities that are essential to daily life (e.g. hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, etc.)
- Individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and
- Individuals with a record of such an impairment.
If an individual has already qualified as disabled for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), it is likely they will meet the definition of disability under the Fair Housing Act.
Reasonable accommodations are changes or exceptions to a property’s policies or practices to provide a person with a disability an equal opportunity to live at and enjoy the use of a property. Here are some important items to understand about reasonable accommodations in the Fair Housing Act:
- Current and Future Tenants. A request for reasonable accommodations applies equally to current tenants as those applying to rent a property. In addition, these rights extend to those individuals living or planning to live with a tenant.
- Scope. A reasonable accommodation can be requested for either a change to a specific rental unit or the general housing policies. It can also include accommodations involving public and common areas.
- Screening. A reasonable accommodation can also be requested for the actual screening process to ensure individuals with disabilities have access to housing. You may request that the screening criteria be adjusted if, for instance, the current screening criteria would eliminate you from consideration because of past issues (e.g. poor credit or eviction history) that occurred before your disability was properly treated.
- Expenses. Unless burdensome, the cost of a reasonable accommodation is paid by the landlord.
- Response Time. While no specific timeframe is provided, landlords are required to provide a prompt response to a reasonable accommodation request.
- Timing of Request. A tenant can request a modification at any time during their tenancy.
There are exceptions to providing a request for reasonable accommodation. Landlords are not required to provide the requested reasonable accommodation if it is a significant financial or administrative burden or it would cause a fundamental alteration to operations. These exceptions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and involve the following factors:
- Cost of the requested accommodation.
- Financial resources of the landlord
- Availability of alternative accommodations
- The level of benefit the accommodation would provide to the individual
If a reasonable accommodation falls under one of these exceptions it does not mean a landlord is free to do nothing. Landlords are still required to seek alternatives for both current and potential tenants that would avoid the above exceptions from occurring.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Permitting an assistance animal in a building where pets are not allowed.
- Adjusting a tenant’s rent payment schedule.
- Assigning an accessible parking space for a person with mobility difficulties.
While most of the requirements remain the same, it is important to understand the difference between requests for accommodations and requests for modifications. Here are the primary ways a request for modification differs from an accommodation request:
- Purpose. A request for modification is a structural change to an existing property so a person with a disability can fully use and enjoy the property. This can include interior and exterior changes to both the rental unit and common areas (e.g. fitness centers, laundry rooms, etc.). In contrast, reasonable accommodations do not require physical alterations but are changes to rules or policies.
- Expenses. Unlike accommodations, the expenses for a modification are generally paid by the person with the disability. So, for instance, if a tenant wants to have a rail installed in their shower to assist with their disability the landlord must approve it if reasonable but the tenant is responsible for the cost and installation.
- Upkeep and Maintenance. Tenants are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of modifications that are exclusively used by them. This even includes common areas that are not normally maintained by the landlord.
- Restoration of Modifications. When reasonable, and at the landlord’s request, a tenant may have to restore certain modifications made to their rental property. The tenant is also responsible for the cost of those restorations.
- Additional Tenant Requirements. Landlords can impose additional requirements on a modification such as obtaining building permits and making sure modifications meet certain workmanship standards. There are limits though. For instance, a landlord cannot require a tenant to use a certain contractor.
Examples of reasonable modifications include:
- Installation of grab bars in a bathroom.
- Transferring a tenant to a ground floor unit.
- Installing a ramp entrance into a rental unit.
General Rights and Requirements
Landlords cannot refuse to make a reasonable accommodation or modification if it is necessary to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their property. Also, they cannot refuse to rent to a prospective tenant because their disability requires a reasonable accommodation or modification.
Simply providing a reasonable accommodation or modification is not enough to avoid discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. There are additional restrictions placed on landlords to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. These include:
- Fees or Additional Deposits. A landlord cannot charge an additional fee or deposit as a condition of granting a reasonable accommodation. For example, if a rental property has no designated parking spaces, a landlord cannot charge a yearly fee for granting a designated parking spot for an individual with a disability.
- Special Conditions. A landlord cannot require a special condition to grant a reasonable accommodation such as granting an exception for the use of a motorized scooter but requiring additional liability insurance.
- Additional Information. A landlord is only allowed to ask for enough information to evaluate whether or not a reasonable accommodation is necessary. If the disability and need are obvious, a landlord cannot request additional information such as medical records or detailed information about the individual’s disability.
While there are certain restrictions on landlords, there is no requirement to adopt formal procedures for evaluating and providing a reasonable accommodation. Also, landlords are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it is requested.
Denial of a Reasonable Accommodation Request
If there is a clear relationship between the requested accommodation and the individual disability the accommodation must be provided, barring any of the exceptions discussed. The only other valid reason for the denial of a reasonable accommodation request is if
- The request is not made by a person with a disability or on behalf of someone with a disability; or
- There is no need for accommodation based on the individual’s disability.
Landlords must provide a prompt response to any request for accommodation or modification. If an individual submits a request and the landlord has not acknowledged it or an agreement has not been reached, the request has essentially been denied. In that case, they can file a complaint within one year of the denial to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
A complaint can be filed in the following ways:
- Phone. You can call toll-free at 1-800-669-9777 or TTY at 1-800-927-9275.
- Online. You can file an online complaint at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Mail. You can mail a completed complaint form or letter to: Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Department of Housing & Urban Development, 451 Seventh Street, S.W., Room 5204, Washington, D.C. 20410-2000.
You can also file a lawsuit in federal district court within two years of the denial of your requested accommodation.
Additional Requirements for Housing with Federal Financial Assistance
For landlords and housing providers that receive federal financial assistance, they are subject to additional requirements under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Specifically, if a landlord is receiving federal financial assistance then they are responsible for paying for reasonable modifications in addition to reasonable accommodations.
Like the Fair Housing Act, there is an exception if it would cause an undue financial or administrative burden or result in a fundamental alteration of their operations.
Housing that receives federal financial assistance provided by state or local entities may also be subject to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.