Fair Housing Center of West Michigan


Fair Housing for Persons with Disabilities

When housing is inaccessible to people with disabilities or someone is denied housing because of a disability, doors in our community close and we miss out on resources, skills, and relationships that we need to help our neighborhoods grow in diverse and vibrant ways.  The Fair Housing Act and other laws protect people from discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity), national origin, familial status, and disability.  Discrimination is illegal in all housing transactions, including rental, sales, lending, and insurance.  Fair housing laws not only prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of disability, but also afford people with disabilities the right to seek reasonable accommodations and modifications to make their housing and communities easier to use and access.  Further, fair housing laws require specific accessibility features in all newly constructed multi-family housing in order to ensure equal housing opportunity for persons with disabilities.

For more in-depth information about reasonable accommodations and modifications, please review the resources listed below:

Who is considered a person with a disability under fair housing laws?

The Fair Housing Act defines a person with a disability as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and includes a record of impairment even if you have recovered, or being regarded as others as having an impairment, even if untrue. Major life activities include caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This definition includes those with physical ailments and emotional or mental illnesses as well as those who do not have a disability but are assumed to by others.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations are changes in rules, policies or practices so that a person with a disability can live in or use a housing unit. 

Example: A building with a "no pets" policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog and cannot impose extra fees.

Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment.

When can someone request an accommodation?

If a tenant, home buyer, or other home seeker needs a reasonable accommodation, he or she may request it from the housing provider at any time. In addition, he or she may be asked to provide information from a professional which documents the disability and why the accommodation is needed if the disability or disability-related need is not apparent or otherwise known. A tenant can request as many accommodations as he or she needs.

For more information on reasonable accommodations, see the joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Justice, entitled, "Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act".

What is a Reasonable Modification?

Reasonable modifications are physical changes to an apartment or house that make the unit accessible to someone with a disability, such as a ramp or hand rail.

When and how can someone request a modification?

A resident or an applicant for housing can make a reasonable modification request whenever he or she makes clear to the housing provider that he or she is requesting permission to make a structural change to the premises because of a disability. The individual should explain he or she has a disability, the type of modification he or she is requesting, and the relationship between the requested modification and the disability.

Who is responsible for the expense of making a reasonable modification?

The Fair Housing Act provides that while the housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification.

What if I am asked to submit documentation?

A person with a disability may be asked to provide proof of a disability and/or verification of a disability-related need when asking for a reasonable accommodation or modification from their housing provider or landlord. Housing providers and landlords do not need to know the details realted to the disability, the diagnosis, or health history; only that a diability is present and that the request is needed because of the disability.

For information to provide to your medical professional about providing documentation on a disability under fair housing laws, see this Fact Sheet on Writing Support Letters: How Medical Professionals Can Support Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications, which includes a sample support letter. If you are requesting supporting documentation for an assistance animal, see this Fact Sheet: Supporting Requests for Assistance Animals in Housing.

Can an accommodation/modification request be denied?

A landlord or other housing provider may deny a request for a reasonable accommodation if it would create an unreasonable burden on the housing provider, but for the most part landlords and housing providers in Michigan must allow the tenant to make reasonable modifications to the property. However, there must be an identifiable relationship between the requested modification and the individuals' disability. If no relationship exists, the housing provider may refuse to allow the requested modification. Contact the staff at the Fair Housing Center for help negotiating a reasonable accommodation or modification request.

For more information on reasonable modifications, see the joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Justice, entitled, "Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act".

What levels of accessibility are required by the Fair Housing Act?

In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:
• Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
• Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs

All units must have:

  • An accessible route into and through the unit
  • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
  • Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and
  • Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units.  These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.  For more information on the Fair Housing Act's Design and Construction requirements, visit Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST.

Possible Signs of Discrimination

  • Refusal to rent or sell to you because of your disability or a relative's disability
  • Being charged extra fees, such as a higher deposit, or higher rent
  • Refusal to allow service animals because of a "no pets" policy
  • Refusal to permit reasonable modifications, such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars
  • Being asked for a medical history to prove you have a disability or to prove you can live independently

If you or someone you know has experienced one or more of these possible signs of discrimination, please report it.  When people are denied housing, mortgages, or insurance because of discrimination, it's not just illegal or just a personal insult.  It also makes our neighborhoods less diverse and welcoming, and it can force people into housing that may not meet their needs. We do our best to ensure that illegal discrimination does not stop anyone from living in the housing of their choice; however, we can't do it alone.  We need your help to end housing discrimination.

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Grand Rapids, MI 49507

Phone: 616-451-2980
Fax: 616-451-2657

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