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Fair Housing Laws and Reasonable Modifications: What You Should Know

The Federal Fair Housing Act (known as the Act) prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. The Department of Justice (the DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) jointly enforce this landmark legislation. Most states also have additional Fair Housing laws. 

What are reasonable modifications under fair housing?

Fair Housing requirements make it unlawful for a housing provider or homeowners' association to refuse to allow areasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification to the premises when they may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities full enjoyment of a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.

  • A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service.
  • A reasonable modification is a structural change made to the premises. Reasonable modifications can include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas. The property owner or manager must permit the modifications but they are at the tenant's expense.

Examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • Renting to a disabled person
  • Allowing a disabled person to have a support animal
  • Not charging additional fees or pet deposits for a support animal
  • Providing a wheelchair ramp in a common area

Examples of reasonable modifications are:

  • A resident with a hearing disability wants to install a peephole in her door so she can see who is there before she opens it.
  • A resident with a mobility issue wants to install grab bars in the bathroom.
  • A resident with a mobility issue wants to install a ramp outside the building in a common area.

Here are other facts regarding reasonable modifications:

  • The tenant or someone acting on the tenant's behalf is responsible for costs associated with a reasonable modification.
  • A reasonable accommodation is at a resident's request for a person with a disability and the property owner and/or manager can request 3rd party verification (like a doctor's note) that a modification is necessary.
  • A tenant can make a request for a reasonable modification at any time before or during the tenancy.
  • The tenant's request must be reasonable and should not present an undue burden on the property owner.
  • If the modification is not reasonable or if it would impose an undue hardship, the property owner can deny the request.
  • If the property owner denies a request, a property owner and/or manager should send a letter to the applicant or resident. The letter should explain the denial, the facts behind the denial, how they discovered the facts, and offer to meet with the applicant/resident.
  • Property owners or managers should not offer to make a modification to a resident but should wait for a resident to request the modification. Offering a modification before it is requested may subject a property owner to a claim of discrimination.
  • To show that a requested modification may be necessary, there must be an identifiable relationship between the requested modification and the individual's disability.
HUD and the DOJ receive numerous complaints alleging that property owners and/or managers are refusing both reasonable accommodations and modifications to persons with disabilities. Complaints can lead to legal action and/or financial losses for investors.

As your property management company, we take each request by the disabled seriously, reviewing the costs and the Fair Housing laws upon receipt of the request prior to taking action. We will always work to avoid incurring risk for your investment and following the Fair Housing laws are a top priority.

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