A reasonable accommodation is a change in the policy, rules, procedures, practices and/or services which enable a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy available housing. There are several laws that deal with reasonable accommodations such as, Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL CH. 151B), the federal Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws state that as a manager of housing you are required by law to grant reasonable accommodations and/or modifications to people with disabilities as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue administrative or financial burden and does not require a fundamental alteration of a housing program.
Examples of accommodations to policies, rules, procedures, practices, and/or services
- Changing a “no pets” policy to allow for service animals.
- Providing applications or notes to tenants in large print.
- Keeping a laundry room door closed so that fumes do not reach someone with multiple chemical sensitivities.
Commonly Asked Questions by Managers
- What is required of me during the application process?
Answer: You must ensure that your application process is fully accessible to applicants with disabilities. This means that your management office must be physically accessible, or you must make arrangements to take applications in other ways. For example, mailing applications to people with disabilities who cannot come to your office would ensure that the process is accessible to applicants with disabilities.
- If an applicant requests the same reasonable accommodation that failed to resolve the tenancy problem in the past must I grant it again?
Answer: No. A housing provider does not need to provide an applicant an accommodation that failed in the past, unless the applicant can show new circumstances why such an accommodation will likely work now. Also, if the tenant was granted this accommodation in a previous development, you do not necessarily need to provide it. You do not have to provide an accommodation if it will result in a fundamental alteration of the housing program, or result in an undue financial and administrative burden for your development. What is reasonable for one housing provider may not be for another.
- If an applicant requests an accommodation, may I require documentation that he/she has a disability and that he/she actually needs the accommodation?
Answer: Yes. A housing manager has the right to ask an applicant to verify that he/she has a disability and needs the accommodation to enjoy equal access to the housing program.
- What are my responsibilities for making reasonable modifications?
Answer: If you are a manager of 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 are a landlord in a two-family, owner-occupied building, you are not obligated to comply with or pay for your tenant’s request for a reasonable modification. The tenant may make and pay for the changes with the following provisions:
- If the changes would materially alter the marketability of the housing or building, you may require that the tenant pay for restoring the building to its previous condition when he/she moves out;
- You may require that the tenant establish an escrow account to hold the money for restoring the property, to provide you with a description of the work to be done, and/or to give you their assurances that it will be done in a quality manner.
Examples of the kinds of modifications that might be needed under reasonable accommodation
- Lowering kitchen cabinets for a person using a wheelchair.
- Installing grab bars in the bathroom for someone with limited mobility.
- Installing a visual alarm system for a person who is hearing impaired or deaf.
- HUD Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/
- MCAD: www.mass.gov/mcad
- The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston: www.bostonfairhousing.org
- MassHousing: www.masshousing.com
- MassHousing’s TAP Management Training Program: www.masshousing.com (offers trainings on various topics for housing managers including reasonable accommodations, screening and tenant selection and other topics)
- Independent Living Centers
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