Fair Housing rules afford the disabled additional protection in rental housing. These protections apply to anyone with a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS-Related Complex and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Under the rules, a landlord may not refuse to let the disabled make reasonable modifications to a dwelling or common use areas, at the disabled person’s expense, if modification is necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Probably the single biggest right the disabled have under Fair Housing rules is that a landlord cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. For instance, a building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog. In recent years, tenants have used claims of mental disability (typically depression or anxiety) in order to keep pets in rental units with “no pet” policies.

Accommodation of disabilities is a matter of reasonableness and, therefore, can be very hard to assess. For example, an apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment. When parking is scarce or already assigned or assignment only to the disabled person is convenient, problems arise. That is why a real estate agent should never give clients advice on Fair Housing issues. Always refer your client, whether landlord or tenant, to an attorney if they want to know if something is “legal” or “illegal” under the Fair Housing statutes.