Apartment hunting disability

Finding an apartment that’s accessible and comfortable is more challenging for disabled apartment hunters and their network of support. But with a clear idea of what’s needed in an apartment and nearby, the task is easier.

If you or a loved one are disabled, you’ll want to keep in mind all the details of what accessible means and be prepared with the right questions during your apartment search.

Issues with cost

Cost can be one of the biggest barriers to finding a good apartment. Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income is almost never enough on its own to cover rent on an apartment. Even if you have regular income to go with it, you’re still probably going to have some trouble making all the numbers work out. Section 8 vouchers or Section 811 assistance may be available to help offset some of the cost of housing.

The crueler part of cost is that the cheapest buildings tend to be the least accessible. Adding ramps, widening doorways, and other improvements are expensive, especially if trying to retrofit an old building. The money has to come from somewhere, so rent at buildings made specifically to be more accessible is higher, so even if you can get the money to rent a cheap apartment, it’s harder to find cheap apartments that are easily accessible.


Your rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t, for the most part, apply to residential housing. It applies to public places – stores, restaurants, libraries, hospitals, offices, warehouses, and anywhere else that people work. It will apply to public spaces in a building, so the leasing office or club rooms in an apartment building will have to follow the ADA.

What does apply to apartments is the Fair Housing Act. This extends the same rights as discrimination based on race, sex, familial status, and religion. They can’t refuse to negotiate with you, refuse to rent an apartment to you, say that an available unit is unavailable, or set unfairly different terms than they would for other tenants. In addition, the Fair Housing Act prohibits renting an inaccessible unit to someone with a disability or refusing reasonable requests to make modifications that make it more accessible.

What it doesn’t do is require the landlord or property managed to pay for those modifications. So, even if you find the perfect apartment that requires just a couple modifications, you’ll have to negotiate with the landlord, and probably end up paying for it yourself. They can help financially, but they’re not required to.

There’s one more thing to negotiate for your lease: when you move out, do the modifications need to be disassembled, returning the apartment to its original state? Who has to pay for that? The answers will probably be “Yes” and “The tenant”, in that order, but it’s a paint that can be negotiated. The landlord may be willing to let the apartment remain as is, saving you the cost of retrofitting it, and giving them a unit they can rent to future disabled tenants.

HUD webpage about ADA and the Fair Housing Act

Newer Complexes: Your Best Bet

Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, any apartment building that fits 4 or more families built after March 31, 1991 is required to meet certain accessibility requirements. For instance, these complexes are required to have accessible parking and public and common use areas. They’re also required to have accessible routes into and around units, doors wide enough to allow passage, and accessible and usable kitchens and bathrooms.

In many jurisdictions, newer apartment complexes may also contain some apartments designed to have features that are more accessible, including ground-level entry, walk-in showers, wider doorways, lower cabinets, and extra floorspace. In addition to the laws, there has been more overall pressure for accessibility in recent years, so the newer the building, the more likely it was designed with accessibility in mind. These run into some of the same cost issues, in that new buildings tend to have higher rents, but you’re far more likely to find what you need in a newer building.

ApartmentGuide makes it much easier to find these units from your computer. Using the search feature on our homepage, click ‘More’ and then ‘More options’ to bring up the Features list.  Under ‘Additional Amenities,’ check ‘Disability Access’ and then your results will show apartments which offer disability access.  (This feature is not yet available via mobile devices).

Hot Tip: According to HUD, these accessibility requirements apply to multifamily dwellings built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991.  So that date is key to your search.

Check out Disability Access apartments in D.C.

Check out Disability Access apartments in Chicago

Check out Disability Access apartments in Los Angeles

Check out Disability Access apartments in Dallas

Check out Disability Access apartments in Phoenix

Check out Disability Access apartments in Miami

Ask the Right Questions when Apartment Hunting

When looking for apartments, prepare a list of questions. Knowing these specific details will help you remember your potential needs and make decisions. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Are the doors at least32 inches wide?
  • Aredoors opened by handles or knobs?
  • Are there ramps where you’d need them?
  • Can you reachlight switches and thermostats?
  • Are flooring surfaceseasy enough to walk or roll across?
  • Is the tub or shower big enough? Do they have grab bars?
  • Is there a dedicated parking space for handicap access?
  • How low are the counters in the apartment?
  • How wide are the hallways, both in the apartment and public areas?


In addition to ensuring that your accessible apartment is right for you on the inside, you’ll also want to make sure that it works when you leave home for any number of reasons.

  • Can you easily get to common areas?
  • Can you reach a grocery store or nearby stores and services?
  • How congested are streets and sidewalks?
  • Are there enough ramps on the sidewalks?
  • Docrosswalks have appropriate lights and crossing sounds for safety?
  • Is there a public transportation stop nearby?
  • Do pharmacies and restaurants deliver here?

It’s not an easy process, but it’s not impossible to find the right apartment for you.



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