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Reasonable Accommodations for Handicapped Tenants

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against a handicapped person in the rental of a dwelling. Discrimination includes any refusal to make a reasonable accommodation for the handicapped person when an accommodation would be a necessary to allow the handicapped person the equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. The interpretation of the law turns on the adjectives "reasonable" and "necessary" - two words that may have led to more disagreement and litigation than any others in the history of our language. The requirement of a reasonable accommodation does not entail an obligation to do everything humanly possible to accommodate a disabled person. The determination calls for a balancing of the needs of the parties involved. Both the cost to the landlord and the benefit to the tenant must be considered. Similarly, the concept of necessity requires at a minimum a showing that the desired accommodation will enhance the disabled tenantís quality of life.

By way of example it is clear that a landlord may not enforce a "no pets" policy against a tenant with a seeing eye dog. A "seeing eye dog" is considered necessary and the accommodation is considered reasonable. Similarly, a landlord may not enforce a "first come first served" parking policy against a mobility impaired tenant. Such a tenant may expect a parking space to be reserved for him near his apartment. What about "hearing dogs" that are intended to assist deaf persons? Such animals are not as common as seeing eye dogs but many deaf persons do have them. Some "hearing dogs" or "seeing eye dogs" may not be officially certified. However, we should remember that the legal question is not whether the dog is certified, but whether the dog is actually helpful to the handicapped person. If the dog is helpful, whether or not he is certified, he may enhance the handicapped tenantís quality of life and therefore may be considered necessary. It should also be remembered that the landlord is only required to make reasonable accommodations. A vicious or dangerous "seeing eye" dog or "hearing dog", even if certified, does not have to be tolerated.

More difficult is the question of fees that are generally applicable to all tenants, such as whether a landlord may require a blind tenant to pay a pet deposit for his seeing eye dog. Unfortunately, the law does not provide a clear answer to this question, leaving us with our own interpretation of the adjectives "reasonable" and "necessary". Questions like this are highly fact-specific and, if not settled out of court, are answered by lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.

The information contained on this site is intended to educate members of the public generally and is not intended to provide solutions to individual legal problems. Readers are cautioned not to attempt to solve individual problems on the basis of information contained herein and are strongly advised to seek competent legal counsel before relying on information on this site.

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Last modified: Monday November 21, 2005.