Table of Contents
Disability Rights Texas Handout
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Ending Discrimination in Housing: Fair Housing Laws
Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in housing because of a person’s disability. These laws apply to rental, sales, advertising, and mortgage lending practices.
The federal Fair Housing Act (the Act) is the primary housing law protecting people with disabilities. The Act prohibits a landlord or seller from refusing to rent to or sell to a person because the person or someone living with the person has a disability, including mental illness. If, due to her disability, a person will not or cannot obey rules that apply to all tenants and her behavior would directly threaten the health or safety of others or cause substantial physical damage to the property, the landlord must determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made that can protect other renters and the property without undue expense. If not, the landlord may refuse to rent to or may seek to evict the person without violating the Act.
So that a person with a disability can fully use the property, the landlord or seller of housing must make reasonable accommodations in all rules, policies, practices, or services. Examples include: an exception to a NO PETS rule or waiver of a pet deposit for a guide dog; designating an alternate, accessible mail delivery location that is acceptable to the tenant and U.S. Postal Service; the waiver of a requirement for previous rental history for a person coming out of an institution.
As explained more fully below, however, the Act does not require a landlord or seller to make physical modifications to the apartment or house nor to create an accessible pathway to the dwelling. Instead, the Act requires a landlord to allow a tenant to make such modifications at the tenant’s expense.
The accessibility requirements for new housing are different from those that apply to existing housing. The requirements for new housing are much stronger.
Who Must Follow the Act?
The Act covers all apartments, condominiums, and other multi-family buildings except owner-occupied complexes with a total of four (4) or fewer families.
The owner of a single-family house does not have to follow the Act when renting or selling unless he owns more than three such houses, has sold a house that was not his residence within the last 24 months, uses a real estate broker or agent to sell or rent his property, or uses discriminatory advertisement.
What are the Requirements for Existing Housing?
In housing occupied prior to March 13, 1991, a landlord is not required to make physical modifications to accommodate a person with a disability. However, the landlord must permit the tenant to make the modification at the tenant’s expense. Two examples: A landlord must allow a tenant who uses a wheelchair to hire a contractor to build a ramp to his doorway and to modify his kitchen for accessibility; a landlord must allow a tenant to hire a contractor to make a mail slot in his door for mail delivery if the complexes mailboxes are inaccessible.
The landlord may refuse to allow the tenant to make modifications unless the tenant agrees to restore the premises to its original condition if it is reasonable to require that the premises be restored.
Example: It would be reasonable to require a tenant to replace a bathtub he had removed to install a roll-in shower, but not to narrow doorways he had widened for wheelchair access.
Where necessary to ensure with reasonable certainty that funds will be available to pay for the restorations, the landlord may require the tenant to pay, over a reasonable period of time and into an interest bearing escrow account, an amount not exceeding the cost of the restorations. The landlord cannot require that the funds be paid in a lump sum before the tenant can make the restorations.
Although a landlord is not required by the Fair Housing Act to make physical modifications to existing housing, a landlord is required by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to public accommodations, to make physical modifications to the premises to assure the accessibility of the rental office and also any clubhouse, meeting room, or other common area which is rented to non-tenants. The parking lot must, therefore, have a curb cut or ramp to an accessible pathway leading to these locations.
What are the Requirements for New Multi-Family Housing?
New multi-family housing that was first occupied after March 13, 1991, must have at least one building entrance on an accessible route, unless the terrain makes an accessible route impractical. An accessible route is a path that is free of obstructions, wide enough to allow wheelchair passage, and safe for and usable by people with disabilities. The burden of proving that an accessible route is impractical is on those who design and construct the housing. Multi-family dwellings in a building that has an entrance on an accessible route, must meet all of the following requirements regarding physical accessibility.
- Public and common use areas must be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
- All doors must be wide enough (32 inches) to allow passage by people in wheelchairs.
- The dwelling must have an accessible route into and through it.
- Light switches, thermostats, and electrical outlets must be in accessible locations.
- Bathroom walls must be reinforced to allow later installation of grab bars around the toilet, tub, and shower.
- Kitchens and bathrooms must be designed to allow individuals in wheelchairs to maneuver.
If the building has four or more units and an elevator, all the units must meet the requirements listed above. If the building does not have an elevator, only the ground floor units must meet the listed accessibility requirements.
Example: A two-story apartment building doesn’t have an elevator, but does have an accessible entrance on the first floor. Those first-floor apartments, but not the second-floor apartments, must meet the requirements stated above.
How to File a Complaint
If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of disability or wish to complain that multi-family housing constructed after March 1991 is not accessible, you may file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) within one year after the discrimination occurred or within one year from the date that you learned of the discrimination.
Each complaint to HUD must contain:
- Name and address of the person making the complaint.
- Name and address of the landlord or seller.
- Description and address of the dwelling which is involved.
- Concise statement of the facts.
All local HUD offices have printed complaint forms. Also, complaints may be made over the telephone to the HUD office, or typewritten statements may be sent directly to HUD. All written complaints should be notarized, if possible. The HUD offices may request additional information needed to investigate the complaint. You can also file a complaint with HUD online.
All typewritten or form complaints in Texas should be sent directly to the Fort Worth Regional HUD Office:
Fort Worth Regional Office of FHEO
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
801 Cherry Street, Unit #45
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
TTY (817) 978-5595
HUD will dismiss a complaint if it is not filed within one year of the alleged discriminatory housing practice.
What Happens to the Complaint?
HUD has 100 days to investigate the complaint. HUD will attempt to bring the two parties to an agreement that may include monetary damages, access to the dwelling at issue, elimination of the discriminatory housing practice and more.
If the parties cannot reach an acceptable agreement, HUD may file a charge against the landlord or seller. This claim may then be asserted either in an administrative hearing or in federal court. You will not have to pay to be represented. If either party requests federal court, the U. S. Attorney General commences the action on your behalf. If nobody requests a judicial determination, then HUD represents you before an Administrative Law Judge.
CAREFULLY READ AND FOLLOW ANY INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE FROM HUD.
You may also file a private lawsuit in court within two (2) years of the discrimination or of the date that you learned of the discrimination. A lawsuit may be filed without going through the HUD proceedings, or may be filed during or after the HUD proceedings, so long as it is within two years of the discrimination.
Special Requirements for Publicly-Funded Housing
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA require that housing projects that receive funding from federal, state, or local governments make physical alterations to their premises, at the landlord’s expense, to accommodate people with disabilities, unless the cost of doing so would pose an undue hardship.
New housing projects must meet the requirements of the Fair Housing Act as stated above. Existing housing need not be structurally modified to make it accessible if there are other ways to make the housing program as a whole accessible to people with disabilities. Thus, some housing may be provided at alternative accessible sites, or some services may be assigned to alternative buildings. Each public housing authority should have and make available its plan for making existing housing accessible.
Complaints and Lawsuits
Complaints about the lack of accessibility of housing funded by HUD should be filed by mail with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C. 20410. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discriminatory action. A lawsuit must be filed within two years.
Last updated: November 7, 2018
Publication Code: HS1
Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.
The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.