Commonly Asked Questions for Managers of Accessible Housing

  1. Who’s eligible for accessible housing?

    Answer: There are different kinds of accessible housing, but the easiest way to think of who is eligible for an accessible apartment, is to think about what the unique features are of that unit, and whether or not the applicant needs those particular features.

    Barrier Free Units: Units that are barrier-free are accessible to people with disabilities that are wheelchairs users, but could also be used by people of different types of disabilities. For example, a person of very short stature, a person with a brain injury or stroke, severe cardiac or respiratory problems, or a person with limited standing, walking, or reaching ability, may use the design features of a wheelchair accessible unit. The design features must accommodate

    Other Accessible Units: There are other kinds of accessible units for people who do not necessarily need a barrier-free unit. Other kinds of accessible units are units that are equipped with communication devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or units that are equipped with devices for people with visual impairments. People with disabilities are eligible for these types of units if they need the particular design features of the unit. the needs of the tenant or a member of his/her family. Medical documentation must substantiate the need.

  2. What can I ask someone who is applying for an accessible apartment about their disability?

    Answer: If the person is applying for an apartment that is wheelchair accessible, or has other accessible features, you may ask the person if they have a qualifying disability and you can ask them to document that. For example, documentation for an accessible apartment could be a letter from the person’s doctor or other professional stating that the applicant has a disability and needs the features of the unit. The letter does not need to state the nature of the disability, and you should not ask questions about the person’s health status or other medical information.

    You may ask questions that relate directly to the person’s ability to comply with the provisions of the lease as long as you ask all applicants these questions. You may not ask specific questions about the person’s disability.

  3. Do I need to keep different waiting lists for different types of housing?

    Answer: Yes. Managers should have a separate waiting list for people who need accessible apartments and another list for people who do not need accessible apartments. By having separate waiting lists managers are able to ensure that a person who needs the accessible design features of an accessible unit rents the apartment.

  4. How long do I have to keep my accessible units vacant before I rent it to someone who doesn’t need the features?

    Answer: According to M.G.L. Chapter 151B Section 4, or what is referred to as the 1989 MA Housing Bill of Rights for People with Disabilities, owners and managers of accessible housing (which includes housing authorities) are required to do affirmative marketing to rent their accessible apartments to people with disabilities that need the features.

    If there are no eligible applicants on the waiting list for an accessible unit, owners and managers of accessible housing must wait 15 days before renting the apartment to someone who does not need the accessible features. As stated in Chapter 151B Section 4, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) must maintain a central registry of accessible housing. Owners and managers must report their vacancies to MRC. The Massachusetts Accessible Housing Registry (Mass Access) is managed by Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association through a contract with MRC to fulfill that obligation.

    If there are no applicants within that 15 day period, the owner or manager may rent the apartment to an applicant on their regular waiting list that does not need the accessible features. For public housing authorities and some other types of affordable housing, the tenant may be required to sign a Lease Addendum, which requires that the tenant will move to a non-barrier free unit if an applicant requiring a barrier-free unit of that size applies to the housing authority and there is a non-barrier free apartment of the same size available.

  5. Do I have to notify Mass Access even if I have a waiting list for my vacant, accessible apartment?

    Answer: Yes, all owners and managers of accessible housing must report vacancies to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (and therefore Mass Access), regardless of whether or not there is a waiting list. Waiting lists tend to be outdated and many managers who have waiting lists have difficultly locating people on their lists when a unit becomes available. By reporting the vacancy to Mass Access regardless, managers fulfill their affirmative marketing requirement to comply with the 1989 law and managers can rent their apartments more quickly.


Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, “A Handbook on the Legal Obligations and Rights of Public and Assisted-Housing Providers Under Federal and State Fair Housing Law for Applicants and Tenants with Disabilities”, Revised 2000.

The Mass Access Fact Sheets were funded in part by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council