Federal law (the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988) and state law (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112) specify that landlords and other housing providers may not discriminate against a person with a disability or a handicap in the sale or rental of a dwelling, such as a house or an apartment. One type of prohibited discrimination is a refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation or a refusal to allow a reasonable modification at the tenant’s expense under certain circumstances. The following are frequently asked questions (FAQs) describing some basic aspects of this issue and tips on what you should consider when asking for a reasonable accommodation or modification in housing.
Rights and Responsibilities for People with Disabilities
Many people with disabilities require the use of a service animal throughout their daily lives. Fortunately, both federal and state laws offer protections for the use of service animals in various situations, including places of public accommodation, employment, housing, education, transportation and air travel, and state and local governments. This fact sheet provides an overview of a person’s rights and responsibilities under certain state and federal laws.
Who is Covered by These Laws?
These laws protect a person using a disability (the laws use the term “handicap”). A disability or handicap is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (including such activities as walking, talking, thinking, eating, seeing, hearing, working, caring for oneself, or major bodily functions). The impairment must be permanent or of long-term duration. Temporary conditions such as pregnancy or a broken bone would usually not qualify. Note that the degree of limitation must be “substantial.” Some conditions (such as blindness, deafness, or inability to walk) will always impair a major life activity, while many conditions (including epilepsy) in some individuals would substantially limit a major life activity, but not in other individuals. These situations are judged on a case-by-case basis.
When can You Ask for a Reasonable Accommodation?
You can ask your landlord or housing provider for an accommodation whenever your proposed accommodation is necessary for you to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy that dwelling. An individual with a disability needs to establish a nexus between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability. Usually, the proposed accommodation serves to lessen or overcome in some way the effect of the disabling condition. Generally, this will involve a medical necessity, either physical or psychological. The best way to support your request is a statement from a medical professional, such as a psychiatrist or other physician, though in some cases a statement from a mental health counselor or social worker might be sufficient. Sometimes a simple prescription is good enough, but usually, a note or letter is better. The doctor’s statement should say the accommodation is necessary or required. Try to avoid statements that say that something is “useful,” “beneficial,” “helpful,” or “recommended.” Those words are usually inadequate.
What Type of Reasonable Accommodation can You Ask For?
Lots of different things. A reasonable accommodation is a change or exception to a rule, policy or practice that is necessary that you have full use and enjoyment of a dwelling unit. It may be something like a request to have a second refrigerator in an apartment complex that does not ordinarily allow an extra appliance, requesting an apartment on the first floor if you have a mobility impairment or requesting a designated handicapped parking spot. Another request is to be allowed to have a service animal or support animal where a no-animals rule is in place. You can find more information on requesting permission to have a service or support animal below.
Will You Be Charged an Extra Fee for a Reasonable Accommodation?
No. Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation. For example, a tenant with a disability who requires an assistance animal may not be required by the housing provider to pay a fee or security deposit as a condition of allowing the assistance animal. But the tenant would be liable for any damages caused by the assistance animal if the housing provider typically charges tenants for damages caused to the premises.
Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities
Section 811 of the program allows persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible in the community by subsidizing rental housing opportunities which provide access to appropriate supportive services. Section 811 is authorized to operate in two ways: by providing interest-free capital advances and operating subsidies to nonprofit developers of affordable housing for persons with disabilities and by providing project rental assistance to state housing agencies.
For projects funded by capital advances and supported by project rental assistance contracts (PRACs), households must be very low-income (within 50 percent of the median income for the area) with at least one adult member using a disability (such as a physical or developmental disability or chronic mental illness).
For projects funded with Project Rental Assistance, residents must be extremely low-income (within 30 percent of the median income for the area) with at least one adult member with a disability.
Housing Assistance for People on SSI
Funded by general tax revenues, the Supplemental Security Income program was created to provide financial assistance to elderly and disabled individuals with little or no income. SSI provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Monthly SSI payments are based on need and can be as much as $1,098 for couples, as of 2012. However, SSI wasn’t intended to provide for eligible recipients’ housing needs, so additional housing assistance is sometimes necessary.
SSI and SSP
SSI is a cash payment from the federal government that sometimes can be supplemented with various state payments. As an example, California provides citizens receiving federal SSI payments using a State Supplementary Payment or SSP. Neither SSI nor SSP is direct housing assistance programs. However, SSI recipients can contact the Social Security Administration’s “State Assistance Programs for SSI Recipients” for information on state-level efforts that involve housing assistance for people receiving SSI.
SSI and Section 8
As of 2012, single people eligible for Supplemental Security Income payments receive $698 monthly, while couples receive $1,098. As such, these low-income individuals may qualify for federal and state housing assistance. For instance, SSI recipients may qualify for HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, known as “Section 8.” Section 8 is subsidized housing; recipients pay about 30 percent of their income towards rent, while Section 8 vouchers pay the remainder.
Housing assistance also includes help meeting basic housing expenses, such as utilities. SSI recipients needing help with utility bills should utilize federal programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. The Golden State’s LIHEAP effort is carried out through the state’s many local energy service providers, and SSI recipients may qualify, given their low incomes. The LIHEAP.org website has links and information for each state’s utility payment assistance programs.
Public Housing Authorities
For SSI recipients, qualifying for the program is only half the battle. Finding affordable housing that’s safe and clean can also be a challenge for those receiving SSI payments. States such as California employ local public housing authorities to give SSI recipients a hand finding housing. The San Francisco Bay Area also features several county and municipal-level PHAs, including in Oakland, Santa Clara and Richmond.
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Since 1994, they have helped thousands of disabled people obtain benefits from the Social Security Administration. They have been successful in all phases of the administrative process.
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