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Finding a place to live that is accessible and comfortable is more challenging for disabled apartment hunters. But with an awareness of rights and  a clear idea of what is needed in an apartment community, the task can be made easier.

If you or a loved one are disabled, you should know that there are a number of laws in place that help ensure that you or they are not denied an apartment or access to one on the basis of a disability. You’ll also want to keep in mind all the details of what accessible means to you, and be prepared with the right questions for your apartment search.

Know the law
The Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act both provide protection when it comes to access of housing for those with disabilities. The ADA is more general in its guidelines for leased property than for public property, but still requires that landlords allow access, passively or actively. The financial burden of such modifications, however, is open to negotiation.

According to the ADA Web site, “The ADA places the legal obligation to remove barriers or provide auxiliary aids and services on both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord and the tenant may decide by lease who will actually make the changes and provide the aids and services, but both remain legally responsible.”

The Fair Housing Act is more specific in regard to apartments for disabled persons. The details of this law are managed by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not only does the act make it illegal to refuse housing to someone on the basis of race, sex, familial status or religion, but it also prohibits landlords from stopping disabled tenants from modifying their housing to make it accessible. Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act provides specific design guidelines for construction built after March 1991 to ensure accessibility for tenants.

Ask the right questions
When looking for apartments that are accessible, prepare a checklist of questions for the landlord or management company. To be sure your potential home is a wheelchair-accessible apartment, you’ll want to know specific details. Here a just a few of the possible questions to ask.

  • Are the doors at least 32 inches wide?
  • Are doors opened by handle or knobs?
  • Are handles in place on any ramps?
  • Are light switches and thermostats low enough to reach?
  • Are carpeted surfaces easy enough to roll upon?

Make sure all hallways, including those in public areas, are usable, that the apartment has an accessible kitchen with low-enough counters, and an accessible bathroom that is big enough with grab bars around the toilet, tub and shower.

Location
In addition to ensuring that your accessible apartment is right for you on the inside, you’ll also want to make sure that you have access to the world outside. Can you easily walk or wheel to groceries and services? How congested are streets and sidewalks? Do crosswalks have appropriate lights and crossing chimes for safety?

Hunting for apartments can feel daunting for the disabled, but know you’re not alone in your search. Armed with an understanding of rights and a list of the important questions to ask, it won’t be long till you’re settled in the perfect home.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons / TheDarkThing

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