by Cathy L. Lucrezi, Attorney at Law
A disabled applicant should be treated just as any other applicant. The process of accepting an application, showing available units, doing a credit and background check, and executing a lease should be the same as you it would be for a non-disabled person. There are a few exceptions, described later in this article.
The business office.
Make sure that your leasing office meets accessibility standards. This includes being sure there is an accessible route from the parking area to your leasing office. This may mean adding a ramp or curb cut, or outfitting at least one restroom that is accessible.
If the disabled applicant needs an accommodation in order to apply for housing, make it. Examples include allowing a vision-impaired applicant to have his friend complete the forms, or allowing a service animal to enter the business office. Another example would be to allow the disabled person’s guardian do the paperwork and sign the lease.
The applicant may say she wants the unit, but will need a modification or accommodation. You can ask the applicant to put the request in writing and provide you with verification of disability. (Hopefully, you already have a policy in place for handling this type of request.)
Generally, a landlord should only ask a person with a disability questions that are asked of all applicants or tenants. It’s OKAY to ask questions such as:
— Can you pay the rent?
— Do you have references regarding your tenant history?
–Who will be living in the unit?
— Do you have a criminal history?
If ours is an apartment community designated for people with disabilities, you can ask the applicant if he or she qualifies for the housing.
It is NOT ok to ask the following:
–Do you have a disability?
–Do you take medication?
–How severe is your disability?
–Why are you getting SSI?
–Can I see your medical records?
–Have you ever been hospitalized for mental illness?
–Have you ever been in drug or alcohol rehab?
–Are you capable of living independently?
A few more “Don’ts”.
Do not presume to know what is best for the disabled applicant. If a person with a mobility impairment wants a unit on the second floor, do not try to talk him into a first floor unit. You would be presuming to know better what the applicant needs, than the applicant himself! It would be a violation of fair housing laws, no matter that you acted with good intentions.
Do not offer a particular accommodation. Don’t suggest: “Will you need a handicapped parking space since you are in a wheelchair?” Instead, respond positively if the individual in the wheelchair asks for a handicapped parking space. The request for such an accommodation should come from the tenant, not you. You can let applicants know you welcome requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications, by noting it in your application materials.