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Ensuring ADA Compliance in Rental Properties

Thad King
May 17, 2024

Everyone deserves to enjoy a comfortable and safe dwelling, and if you’re a commercial property manager who leases to the public, you have special legal responsibilities to provide safe dwellings for individuals with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that lays out rules and policies and outlines practices that housing must adhere to to comply with ADA standards.

ADA compliance for rental properties is serious business, and failure to make or keep rental properties ADA-compliant can result in legal challenges for commercial property managers and owners. ADA regulations are mandatory for virtually all public properties in the United States, but many commercial properties that provide public services like housing are also affected. In a nutshell, you must provide equal opportunity to use and enjoy dwellings you lease to others to avoid violating ADA standards.

Examples of ADA Requirements for Rented Dwellings

The ADA lays out guidelines for dwellings, but overall, ADA compliance for rental properties comes down to making reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. This means allowing tenants to engage in major life activities as well as day-to-day activities without impediment.

Safety and ADA Requirements

Safety is also an aspect of the ADA requirements for rented dwellings. What may be safe for someone without a disability may be unsafe for someone with a disability. Reasonable accommodations must be made to make a dwelling safe to satisfy the ADA requirements.

For instance, you must allow reasonable service animals to accompany a tenant with disabilities if the animal is necessary for safety and everyday life. For someone with a visual impairment, a service animal may be responsible for safe guidance in and around the dwelling. This would be an ADA issue requiring you to allow the service animal to accompany the tenant in and around your commercial property.

Another way to make a commercial property compliant with ADA requirements is to install ramps at entrances. Entryways must be safely accessible to individuals with mobility challenges, and although a ramp is not necessary for each individual unit in a commercial property, providing ramp access to a main walkway leading to a row of units is.

Who Pays for Making a Property ADA-Compliant?

Regarding ADA compliance for rental properties, there is the question of cost. More specifically, landlords and tenants need to know who is responsible for paying for alterations or upgrades to make a property ADA-compliant.

In general, the property owner is responsible for ADA compliance, but tenants may also bear some financial responsibility. If a community pool has no way for people with disabilities to safely enter without remodeling, the pool remodel cost will generally fall on the landlord since the pool is a common area.

If, on the other hand, a tenant wants to make alterations to a rental unit to make life easier when living with a disability, the landlord and tenant may agree on the cost. This is more reasonable for a rental unit since it is used by one person and may not be a permanent dwelling. Making major and costly changes to a single unit may not be reasonable, depending on the scope of the changes requested.

States Have Their Own Regulations

Commercial property managers should also note that different states have their own regulations regarding disability requirements for rental properties. For example, California has the Unruh Civil Rights Act. This law entitles all people, regardless of disability, to enjoy full and equal accommodations at businesses and commercial properties.

While the above-mentioned law is specific to California, commercial property managers are encouraged to inquire about laws in the states where they operate. The ADA does not supersede state law except in cases where a state law does not provide the same level of protection for disabled individuals as does the ADA.

Housing and Urban Development Considerations

In addition to ADA standards, dwellings built after 2010 may be required to meet standards for individuals with disabilities as outlined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Some of these standards include the ability to access climate controls, the ability to access a dwelling, and usable doors installed in a dwelling.

While these requirements apply to new construction for commercial properties leased as dwellings, they also apply to alterations made after 2010. This means renovations and remodels must be approached with HUD and ADA regulations in mind. Commercial properties undergo upgrades over time to keep things modern and fresh, so commercial property managers are encouraged to factor in these standards when planning alterations to existing properties.

Consult With a Civil Rights or Business Attorney

If you’re unclear as to whether a tenant issue is governed by the ADA or a complementary state law, you’re encouraged to consult your attorney. You can also speak with a civil rights or business attorney in your state for clarification as to your responsibilities regarding ADA compliance for rental properties.

Remember that reasonableness is the general test to measure whether an accommodation is required. This is where things become a bit tricky, and situations in which the reasonableness of a request is called into question are situations where involving an attorney is best.

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