Disability Discrimination

Individuals with disabilities have the basic right to expect reasonable accommodations that allow them access to housing. Housing discrimination is a painful, stubborn reality for people with different forms of disability in the United States. Indeed, disability discrimination is the top form of housing discrimination. Federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of disability.



A person with a physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. “Major life activities” include walking, hearing, social interaction, seeing, breathing, self-care, learning, or speaking. Examples of a “disability” are blindness, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, mental retardation, or mental illness.


  • Intentional Discrimination – purposeful discrimination against a person because of his or her disability.
  • Unintentional Discrimination – conduct which has the effect of discrimination, even if it wasn’t intended.  For instance, requiring that the tenant or prospective tenant provide proof of income from employment would exclude many people with disabilities who rely solely on social security for income, would be considered discrimination.


  • Failure to provide a reasonable accommodation: “Reasonable accommodations” are changes in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability can participate as fully in activities related to housing as a person without a disability.
  • Both public housing authorities and private landlords must provide reasonable accommodations.
  • To get reasonable accommodation, the tenant MUST request it, and it is best to make the request in writing.  If the relationship between the tenant’s disability and the requested accommodation is not obvious, the landlord can ask for proof that the accommodation is needed.  In other words, the landlord must engage in what is known as the “interactive process” such as contacting the tenant’s medical care provider in order to verify that the tenant requires reasonable accommodation.  During this process, the landlord may not inquire into the type or nature of the disability, only that the tenant sought reasonable accommodation and is entitled to the accommodation.
  • A tenant is only entitled to an accommodation that is necessary for affording him an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home and its surroundings.
  • A requested accommodation must be provided unless it is unreasonable, or doing so would constitute an “undue burden” on the housing provider or “fundamental alteration” in the rule, policy, or practice.

Examples of “reasonable accommodations” by landlords  would include:

  • Provider a deaf tenant with specialized smoke detector devise or modified door “bell”; fixtures inside the apartment to be aware of smoke
  • Providing auxiliary aids and services to applicants and recipients to aid in the application process and subsequent communications, such as readers, interpreters, and materials in accessible formats;
  • Assisting with lease signing or other arrangements if needed;
  • Allowing a companion or service animal despite a no pet policy;
  • Allowing a caregiver to reside with a disabled tenant notwithstanding the facility’s occupancy standards.

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