For most landlords, the thought of renting their South Florida home to tenants with impairments is daunting due to the accommodations they need to make. However, renting to tenants with disabilities does come with one main benefit: they’re more likely to stay longer. With that said, don’t disregard the idea of renting to this group! While it will require more work, you can mitigate the challenges that come with it. All you have to do is be informed about your rights, your disabled tenant’s rights, and your obligations.
What is meant by “disability”?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as something that limits a person from performing one or more activities, resulting in a significant, long-term effect on their day-to-day life. This disability can either be mental (e.g. depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. ) or physical (e.g. the tenant uses a wheelchair, has HIV/AIDS, etc.).
Can landlords inquire about a tenant’s disability?
By law, landlords are not allowed to ask about a tenant’s disability or treat them differently than other tenants. For example, you can’t ask for proof of their disability, ask why they’re disabled, or ask them to offer more information about it such as their medical records. As a general rule, the questions you ask disabled tenants must be the same questions you ask all other tenants.
However, once the tenant signs the lease and asks you to make changes to the unit to make it more functional for them, you may be able to ask for proof of their disability.
Do landlords have to adapt to a tenant’s needs?
Yes, as the landlord, you are required to accommodate your tenant’s needs. Disabled tenants have the right to request their landlord to alter their policies, practices, and rules in a way that improves their quality of life — this is called a “reasonable accommodation”. An example is making an exception for your disabled tenant to own a service animal even if you’ve banned pets on your property. They may also request other rent payment methods if your current payment system is inconvenient to them.
Furthermore, they can ask for “reasonable modifications” to be made to the unit or common areas, such as lowering the kitchen counters, installing wheelchair access, etc. But don’t worry—if the tenant’s request is unreasonable (e.g. if it’s unrelated to their disability) or would be a financial burden to you, you can come to an alternative agreement with your tenant instead. In addition, if the modification will make the unit unsuitable for future non-disabled tenants, you can ask the tenant to bring the property back to its original condition when they move out.
It’s crucial to include this clause in your rental contract to avoid disputes once their tenancy is over. Partner with a rental management company to draft a contract that protects you, and enforces your terms while making sure you don’t commit any acts that may be deemed discriminatory.
Examples of modifications to your rental property
Below are a few examples of property modifications you may have to implement so your tenants can fully make use of your unit:
Wheelchair ramps and chair lifts
To allow tenants who use wheelchairs to enter your property, you will need to install a ramp at the main door and inside, especially if your rooms are a step up. For rooms with multiple floors, chair lifts may be necessary, but if this is too expensive, you may be able to come to a compromise.
To ensure your tenant’s safety, especially if they have a mobile or visual disability, it’s essential to install railings along the walls. Grab bars are a must in the bathroom, where the risk of accidents like slip-and-falls is much higher.
Doors must be at least 34 inches (exterior doors) and 32 inches (interior doors) wide to allow wheelchair access.
In most homes, the shower is lower than the rest of the floor to prevent water from flowing out. This would be an inconvenience to tenants who use wheelchairs. To adapt to their needs, you may have to turn your shower into a roll-in shower.
When renting to tenants with visual impairments, it’s important to prepare rental-related documents in Braille form. Along with that, make sure your tenant can easily use your home’s features by incorporating Braille into items like HVAC controls, light switches, and washing machines.
In a multi-family property, disabled tenants have the right to pick the most accessible parking spot for them.
Who pays for modifications?
When a tenant requests reasonable modifications, remember that it will be at your expense. When deciding whether or not to agree to the tenant’s requests, always keep the keyword “reasonable” in mind. If their requests are excessive (for example, they want you to build an elevator), you won’t get in trouble for saying no.
Can landlords refuse tenants with disabilities?
You must evaluate a tenant based on their capability to pay their rent and history as a tenant, not on their disability. In other words, you can’t refuse to rent to them simply because you don’t want to adapt to their disability—instead, they must be treated in the same way as tenants without disabilities. You may only refuse to rent to them if they show behavior that would indicate that they’re unfit to be tenants. For example, if they’ve been evicted too many times before, you can reject them on that basis.
However, you can’t reject them because you fear that they might be a risk to you or other tenants. You must evaluate them on their current conduct, not how you think they will act. So, if a tenant has a mental disability but has a clean rental record, you can’t turn them down because of their impairment. But if they’ve threatened others before and will likely do it again, that would be a reasonable ground for refusal.
Deciding whether or not to rent to disabled tenants can be tricky, which is why it’s a task best left to a rental manager. They’re familiar with the different types of protected classes and disabilities, and can ensure the selection process is done as fairly as possible.
How a rental management company can help
If you’re renting to a tenant with a disability, it helps to partner with professionals who are familiar with the processes. When you work alongside the property managers at Luxury Property Care, you can expect all-around guidance on all legal and practical matters related to renting to this FHA-protected group. If you’re in South Florida, call us today at (561) 944 – 2992 or complete our contact form to ensure that you manage your property and your tenants—regardless of their circumstances—the proper way.