Disability Rights Texas Handout
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Table of Contents
Eviction and Reasonable Accommodations
This handout gives a summary of a tenant’s right to ask for a reasonable accommodation in order to avoid an eviction. It is based on both federal and Texas laws.
1. Can a landlord evict me just because I have a disability?
No, not for disability alone. Sometimes, though, a disability can have characteristics, or can cause conduct, that may result in complaints or violate the lease. Those are the cases that this handout is talking about.
2. In general, can a landlord evict me for having an unapproved pet?
Maybe. Such conduct may violate the lease, and may result in an eviction. But see Question 3 below.
3. What if I have an animal that is not just a pet, but is needed because of my disability. Can the landlord evict me under its “no pets” policy?
Generally not. For example, if a person has a service animal (trained to perform some task) or an emotional support animal (that gives comfort to a person with a psychiatric disability), it is not really a pet. In those cases neither the person nor the animal can be excluded just because of a “no pets” policy.
4. In general, can a landlord evict someone for misconduct, property damage, or disturbing others?
Sometimes. Such conduct may violate the lease, or even be illegal, and may result in eviction.
5. What if there is misconduct or disturbance, but it is caused by my disability, or is related to my disability. Is there anything I can do to stop an eviction in that case?
Maybe so. In some cases, the landlord may violate the law if it refuses to stop an eviction in response to a tenant’s request for a “reasonable accommodation.” So asking for a reasonable accommodation may give you some protection against eviction.
6. What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services that are needed to give the person with a disability an equal chance to live in a dwelling. Both state and federal laws require a reasonable accommodation, if one is needed.
7. How can a reasonable accommodation help in an eviction case?
In evictions, even if a tenant without a disability could be evicted, a landlord cannot necessarily evict a tenant with a disability because of behavior related to the tenant’s disability. If it is possible for a landlord to alter its policies and rules in a reasonable way so that a tenant with a disability can stay in the housing, the landlord must make the accommodation (unless it has a defense described in Question 17 below).
8. Are you saying that a reasonable accommodation might require a landlord to change its policies or rules?
Yes, it might.
9. Can a reasonable accommodation require a landlord to spend some money?
Yes, that is possible, too.
10. Can you give me some examples of reasonable accommodations that might come up in an eviction case?
There is no complete list anywhere. In the housing context generally, accommodations might include selecting a different location for mail delivery that more is accessible to a tenant in a wheelchair (but still acceptable to the Postal Service), or not requiring the previous rental history for an applicant who is coming out of an institution.
In an eviction situation, some of the more common accommodation requests include allowing a service or support animal, or giving the tenant time to get assistance, medical or psychological treatment, or medications so that the tenant can change behavior.
11. Can I get an accommodation or policy change to let me skip rent, or pay less rent, if I do not have the money to pay the rent because of my disability?
Probably not. From the cases we have seen it appears unlikely that courts will require landlords to waive any portion of late rent payments, or even accept some type of payment plan, to allow tenants with disabilities to stay despite missed rent payments.
Asking for accommodations
12. If the landlord has started an eviction, and I think an accommodation might help, what should I do?
The first step is to ask for the reasonable accommodation. This does not have to be in writing, but it is better if you put it in writing (and keep a copy for your records). It should normally tell the landlord or property manager the nature of your disability, and should ask for a reasonable accommodation or other assistance in order to stay in the housing. It is best if you give an example of an accommodation that you think is reasonable, and that you think would work to fix the problems.
13. If I ask for a reasonable accommodation, can the landlord ask me for medical information about it?
Sometimes. If your landlord asks for more information, or for a letter from your doctor, it is usually a good idea to cooperate. But you may want to talk to a lawyer to get the details about what the landlord can and cannot ask for.
In order to receive an accommodation, a tenant must be able to show the link between the tenant’s disability and the actions the landlord is complaining about. Courts are sometimes skeptical about this, so it is important to have good evidence. The tenant must also show that an accommodation will help the tenant comply with the lease.
14. If I ask for a particular accommodation, and the landlord offers a different one that is not as good, do I have to accept it?
It depends. Sometimes the courts say that landlords should not be allowed to insist on a specific accommodation if the tenant is able to propose a different accommodation that meets the tenant’s needs and allows the tenant to comply with lease provisions.
15. What if I ask for an accommodation, but the landlord goes ahead with the eviction?
A tenant can challenge an eviction on the grounds of a landlord’s refusal to grant an accommodation in at least three ways: (1) by filing a lawsuit in court; (2) by filing an administrative complaint with HUD or a state enforcement agency; or (3) by raising the claim as a defense in an eviction action in court. However, because eviction cases move very fast, claims that the landlord failed to give a reasonable accommodation often are raised first as defenses in the eviction proceeding.
16. What if I did not exactly ask for a reasonable accommodation, and the eviction proceeding is already in court. Is it too late?
Not necessarily. In some cases you can ask for an accommodation even if the eviction case has already been filed in court. Also, in some situations the need for accommodation is so clear that the law does not require you to say any “magic words.”
Landlord information and responses
17. Are there exceptions to the accommodation requirement, or defenses the landlord might have?
Yes. A landlord does not have to provide a particular accommodation if the cost would be an “undue burden,” or if the accommodation would cause a “fundamental alteration” to the landlord’s business or services. Those things depend on the specific facts.
Also, if the lease violation is related to current illegal drug use, a landlord will not be required to keep a tenant.
Finally, the laws generally allow a landlord to evict a tenant if their staying would (a) be a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others, or (b) result in substantial physical damage to the property of others. Even in those cases, however, some courts require the landlord to show that no reasonable accommodation would have eliminated or reduced the risks. For example, in one case a tenant with a mental disability and a hearing impairment said that his behavior was caused by the disabilities and could be easily controlled and accommodated. The court made the public housing authority stop the eviction, and allow an opportunity for accommodation before it could proceed with the eviction.
18. What if the landlord stops the eviction and gives me the accommodation I asked for, but it doesn’t work. Am I still protected?
That depends. The landlord’s obligation is a continuing one, so the landlord may have to try more than one thing. But at some point the courts may not require anything else from the landlord, and may let the eviction go through.
19. How do I know if my landlord is covered by the above rules?
Most public and private landlords are covered by the various federal and state laws requiring reasonable accommodations. There are only a few exceptions, which a lawyer can help you understand.
Get help and more information
20. Where can I get more information about this?
For our own handout on housing discrimination in general, you might look online at: https://www.disabilityrightstx.org/category/housing/.
There are various online documents that can give you a more detailed legal analysis. For example, see http://www.bazelon.org/our-work/mental-health-systems/community-integration/.
21. Where can I find a lawyer or advocate to help me with a problem like this?
You may want to contact your local fair housing agency or legal aid organization about whether they can help or whether they can refer you to others who might be able to help you. In Texas, calling the statewide 211 referral number would be a good place to start.
Last updated: September 30, 2018
Publication Code: HS3
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.