Reasonable Modifications for People with Disabilities
Disability is defined under the Fair Housing Act as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities.” This definition includes people who have a history of such an impairment, and people perceived as having such an impairment. Reasonable modifications, as defined by the Fair Housing Act, are changes to the physical structure of a dwelling that are necessary to afford a person with a disability full enjoyment of the premises. Since there is a lack of accessible housing throughout Pennsylvania, a disabled home seeker’s only option for obtaining an accessible dwelling may be to request a reasonable modification. If a reasonable request were made for modifications to be completed in an individual unit or in the common area of housing, a housing provider would have to permit the modification.
Examples of modifications include:
- Widened doorways in unit
- Grab bars in bathroom or at entrance to unit
- Removal of below-counter cabinets
- Installation of wheelchair ramp at entrance to building/unit
- Replacing door knobs with levers
- Installation of visual and tactile alert devices
A landlord, property manager, condominium board or any other housing provider may request additional information or documentation to evaluate the reasonableness of a request for a modification if the requester has a disability that is not obvious, or the disability-related need for the modification is not apparent.
In most situations, it would be the tenant’s responsibility to pay for any requested modifications. If a property receives federal financial assistance, then it is the responsibility of the housing provider to pay for the modification. In many instances, this applies to nonprofit housing providers. A landlord may require that modifications be done in a “workmanlike” manner and, if necessary, may ask that a deposit be put in escrow to cover the costs of returning the dwelling to its original condition. A landlord cannot:
- Dictate a particular contractor
- Require a particular design concept for aesthetic reasons
- Place any restrictions upon granting a reasonable modification request