A reasonable accommodation is a change in the policy, rules, procedures, practices or services that enable a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing available. Accommodations must be practical and reasonable and must not pose an “undue burden” on the owner or alter the main function of the housing (for example, asking your landlord to help you pay your bills or drive you to appointments would alter the function from housing manager to advocate or personal assistant and may not be reasonable).
Some examples of reasonable accommodations to policies, rules procedures, practices or services include:
- Sending an application in the mail to someone when the rule is that applicants must apply in-person
- Changing a “no pets” rule to allow service animals
- Keeping a laundry room door closed so that fumes do not reach someone with multiple chemical sensitivity
- Providing notices to tenants in large print
- Allowing a person to keep their apartment even though it is unoccupied while they are in a hospital.
It is up to you, as the person with a disability, to ask for an accommodation. Your landlord or housing manager may not know that you have a disability. Or, if they do know, they may not know how it affects you or what kinds of accommodations you might need.
If you live in a two-family, owner occupied building, the owner is not legally obligated to comply with your request. You can, and should, still request an accommodation.
You may also have the right to have reasonable modifications made to your housing unit and the public use areas within the complex (such as the lobby, main entrance, laundry room, etc) as they are necessary for the full use and enjoyment of your housing.
If you live in private or public sector housing Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B Sec 4(6); 804 CMR 2.03(3) states that owners of buildings with 10 or more units and owners of publicly assisted housing are required to pay for reasonable modifications to enable the applicant/tenant to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit.
If you live in a two-family, owner-occupied building, the owner is not obligated to comply with your request or to pay for it. You may make and pay for the changes yourself, with the following provisions.
- If the changes would materially alter the marketability of the housing or building, your landlord may require you to pay for restoring the building to its previous condition when you move out;
- Your landlord may require you to establish an escrow account to hold the money for restoring the property, to provide a description of the work that will be done, and/or get your assurances that it will be done in a quality manner.
Some examples of reasonable modifications are:
- Lowering the kitchen cabinets for a person using a wheelchair
- Requesting that grab bars be installed in the bathroom
- Requesting that the smoke detectors in your unit and hallway have strobe flashers because you are hard of hearing
- Disconnecting the gas oven and installing an electric range for a person allergic to fumes
Requesting an Accommodation
- If you have a friendly relationship with your landlord or housing manager, you can start by speaking with them on the phone. Explain how your disability affects you and what accommodation(s) will solve the problem. You will want to follow up with a letter confirming the accommodation(s) you both agreed upon. It is also important to make a copy of the letter before you send it and keep it where you can easily find it again.
- In more formal cases, you should write a letter. In the letter, describe the accommodation you need and how it relates to your disability. You may want to add that you are entitled to this accommodation by fair housing laws. Ask your landlord or housing manager to contact you to discuss your accommodation(s). Make sure to include the date, your name, address, and phone number. It is also important to make a copy of the letter before you send it and keep it where you can easily find it again.
- If you have not gotten a positive response after a week or two, you should make another request, in writing (especially if your initial request was not in writing). If your letters and/or phone calls were not successful, you may want to seek assistance. You should call your local Independent Living Center (link), or legal aid office (link) or the Disability Law Center(link).
- Handout on Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications, U. S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
- “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”, Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Revised 2000
The Mass Access Fact Sheets were funded in part by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council