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Under the Fair Housing Act, it is also unlawful for any housing provider to refuse to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or intended to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises of a dwelling. A “modification” is any structural change to the public or common-use areas of a building or any structural change to a dwelling unit.
NOTE: Although tenants are generally responsible for paying the costs of the modifications, this is not the case if the modifications should already be in place. Many apartment complexes that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, do not meet all of the accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act. If the apartment complex is not in compliance with the accessibility requirements, the owner of the complex should pay for the modifications that a tenant requests which the owner is already responsible to completing in order to bring the complex into compliance. Furthermore, if the tenant lives at an apartment complex that receives federal funding, the tenant can, in most cases, request that the owner of the apartment complex pay for the modifications, as an accommodation to the tenant.
In the case of a rental unit, the landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, in general, if the modifications do not affect the landlord or subsequent renter’s use and enjoyment of the premises, the renter should not be required to restore the modifications to their prior state.
The landlord may not increase for disabled tenants any customarily required security deposit. However, the landlord may negotiate a restoration agreement with the tenant where it is necessary in order to ensure with reasonable certainty that funds will be available to pay for the restorations at the end of the tenancy. This restoration agreement would outline provisions requiring the tenant pay into an interest bearing escrow account (over a reasonable period of time) a reasonable amount of money not to exceed the cost of the restoration. The interest in any such account shall accrue to the benefit of the tenant. This means that landlords may not routinely require such escrow payments, but must instead make a case-by-case determination based on such factors as the extent and nature of the modification involved, the duration of the lease, and the credit and rental history of the individual tenant.
A landlord may condition permission for a modification on the tenant providing a reasonable description of the proposed modifications, as well as, reasonable assurances that the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any required building permits will be obtained.
An applicant for rental housing has a child who uses a wheelchair. The bathroom door in the dwelling unit is too narrow to permit the wheelchair to pass. The applicant asks the landlord for permission to widen the doorway at the applicant’s own expense. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the applicant to make the modification. Furthermore, the landlord may not, in usual circumstances, condition permission for the modification on the applicant paying for the doorway to be narrowed at the end of the lease because a wider doorway will not interfere with the landlord’s or the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises.
A disabled tenant asks his landlord for permission to install grab bars in the bathroom at his own expense. It is necessary to reinforce the walls with blocking between studs in order to affix the grab bars. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the tenant, at the tenant’s own expense, from making the modifications necessary to add the grab bars. However, the landlord may condition permission for the modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the bathroom to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. It would be reasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the grab bars at the end of his tenancy. The landlord may also reasonably require that the wall to which the grab bars are to be attached be repaired and restored to its original condition, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, it would be unreasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the blocking, since the reinforced walls will not interfere in any way with the landlord’s or the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises and may be needed by some future tenant.