Rental Discrimination: Mental or Physical Disabilities

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The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating in the rental of housing based on mental or physical disability. Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for their disability or handicap.

Disability Requirement

Under the Fair Housing Act, the definition of “handicap” is broader than that diagnosed by a doctor. A “handicap” meets all three criteria: 1) A physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s life activities; 2) A record of having such an impairment, or 3) Being regarded as having such an impairment, but such term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance. This includes conditions like blindness, hearing impairment, HIV infection, chronic fatigue, drug addiction, head injuries, and mental illness. It can also apply to hoarders, loud or violent tenants, tenants with phobia and OCD, and other situations if there’s a record of such impairment.

Reasonable Accommodations

If a tenant, or someone associated with the tenant, is disabled, a landlord cannot refuse: to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services for the tenant to use the housing on an equal basis with nondisabled persons; or to let the tenant make reasonable modifications to the dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense, necessary for the tenant to fully use the housing.

A landlord is allowed to prohibit modification to an apartment unless the tenant agrees to restore the property to its original condition when the tenant moves. For example, a building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog but the tenant may be liable for damage to the floor. In a more extreme example, a tenant with a mental disability was constantly throwing trash off a balcony window, which landed in other tenants’ balconies below. Because the impairment substantially limited her life activities, the landlord needed to provide a reasonable accommodation. Moving this tenant to an apartment on the first floor was considered a reasonable solution; the tenant no longer disturbed other tenants.

Accessible Design

Most multifamily buildings built after March 13, 1991 must follow the Fair Housing Act’s guidelines for accessible design. This includes an accessible building entrance on an accessible route, accessible common and public use area, doors usable by a person in a wheelchair, accessible routes to each apartment unit, light switches, outlets, and thermostats in accessible locations, reinforced walls in bathrooms for potential installation of grab bars, and accessible kitchens and bathrooms.


The Fair Housing Act rental discrimination rules do not apply to owner-occupied buildings with less than five units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

Filing a Complaint

Under the Fair Housing Act, victims of rental discrimination have one year to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two years to file a private lawsuit. Tenants can learn more about how to file a complaint here: To file a complaint under state laws (i.e., for discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status), tenants should contact their state or local housing authorities.

By |February 21st, 2018|USA|

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