Finding the perfect apartment is a complex process. But locating the best handicap-accessible apartments poses additional challenges. Pre-planning, knowing your rights and accessing all your resources can help you find the right fit.
Before you start looking for handicap-accessible apartments, examine your rights as a renter with disabilities. Understanding how the law works can help you refine your search. It can also bring clarity to your negotiations with your future landlord.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against anyone with a disability. It defines a disability as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
All people with current or past disabilities are protected by federal laws in public spaces. ADA protections only apply to public spaces like the leasing office and common rooms in apartment buildings.
The Fair Housing Act covers rental units themselves. This act states that all renters have the same rights, regardless of gender, race, religion, familial status or physical or mental ability.
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords or property managers must treat you like any other renter. They can't deny you a place in the building based on your disability or insist you take a particular apartment.
Landlords can ask for documentation of your disability. This can include statements from medical providers or care teams. You can also provide proof of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Services. They cannot request medical records or insist that you “prove" your disability exists.
Property managers can't force you to take an apartment that's not accessible. They also can't refuse reasonable requests to make your living space more accessible. But the Fair Housing act doesn't require them to pay for modifications. They may pass those costs on to you. Read on to learn how to negotiate your lease and offset some of these costs.
Landlords can't discriminate against you because of your disability. But they can request proof of income and require that you meet the same rent-to-income ratio as the other renter. So gather the documents that provide your proof of income.
Include paycheck stubs, self-employment income, alimony, child support payments and Supplemental Security Income. Include paperwork for Social Security Disability Services and short and long-term disability insurance payments.
Financial experts say you shouldn't pay more than 30 percent of your income on rent. This isn't realistic in many cities. The little fees associated with renting an apartment can add up. Apartments for people with disabilities often require modifications, which can increase the price.
There are resources available to help offset the costs of handicap-accessible apartments. Federal programs connect renters with available units. They also make apartments for people with disabilities more affordable.
Nonprofit organizations also help relieve the financial burden. Many offer supplemental services that can help increase your quality of life.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides several housing assistance programs for disabled renters. Search the HUD Resource Locator to find affordable housing options, a HUD office or a Local Public Housing Authority/Agency (PHA) by ZIP code.
The Supportive Housing for People with Disabilities Program (or Section 811) is a federal program that develops and subsidizes rental housing for low-income adults with physical disabilities and chronic mental illness.
Available units can take months to open up and rent assistance wait times vary, so research other options as you wait.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) assists low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. You find a handicap-accessible apartment, home or townhouse on your own, and use the voucher to offset the cost of the rent. Apply for the House Choice Voucher Program at your Public Housing Authority/Agency (PHA).
The Non-Elderly Disabled (NED) program is similar to Section 8 in that it provides vouchers. These vouchers are specifically reserved for disabled individuals under the age of 62 and their families. They're used to offset the cost of the handicap-accessible apartment of your choice.
There are numerous charitable organizations in your city or state that can help offset the costs of apartments for people with disabilities. Some operate affordable housing units, while others refer disabled renters to handicap accessible apartments.
The waiting lists for apartments for people with disabilities can be lengthy. And some people prefer to choose their own building and moving schedule. So many renters look for handicap-accessible apartments on their own.
Leverage your connections. Ask your friends, family, coworkers and caregivers for referrals. Your medical and support teams can provide qualified leads. Others in the disabled community can help you find workarounds, alert you to vacancies and give you the inside scoop on accessible buildings and understanding landlords.
You're not just choosing an apartment, you're also choosing a neighborhood. Make sure the sidewalks, parks and public areas are accessible. See which restaurants, bars and shops can accommodate your needs.
If you drive, consider the parking situation. But if not, make sure the public transit or paratransit system can get you where you need to go. Also calculate the distance to the grocery store, your treatment providers and the community resources you need to access the most often.
Then study the environment. Street noise, blinking lights, sirens and high traffic areas often are stressful or overstimulating. Vibrations from trains or nightclubs might be distracting.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act requires multifamily housing buildings built after March 13, 1991, to include certain accessible features. These include accessible parking and public areas and accessible doors, kitchens and bathrooms. So a newer building might have a higher monthly rent, but it will also include units that are more accommodating.
And since it's more expensive to retrofit an older unit, your landlord likely won't need to make any additional improvements to your apartment accessible. That could save you money in the long run.
Apartment Guide makes it easy to find handicap accessible apartments across the U.S. Just use the search feature on our homepage.
First, type “Disability Access" into the search bar. Your results will show apartments that offer disability access in your city. You can also move the map around to nearby cities or neighborhoods. The results will then update as you change location.
Then, click “Sort and Filter" to refine your search. You can filter by price and sort by the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the unit. Sort by other amenities (including hardwood floors, senior apartments, recently remodeled apartments and assisted living units) to find the best fit.
Or, you can simply view the lists of disability access apartments in popular rental markets:
Once you've identified the apartments and neighborhoods you like, it's time to schedule virtual or in-person tours. Make a list of accessible features you need a home to provide.
If you like an apartment, but it's missing an accessible feature, put it on a second list. These are the items you'll then need to petition your landlord to add, remove or renovate.
Reasonable accommodation or modification is any adjustment to space, rule or policy that enables a disabled person the equal opportunity to use and live in a space. While certain improvements qualify a place as handicap accessible, they won't meet the needs of every tenant. Advocate for what you need.
Any renter with a physical or mental disability is legally entitled to make requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications. Landlords can also legally ask a prospective tenant how a particular modification or alternation will help improve their life.
The landlord isn't required to pay for modifications. But if you ask for a modification that should have already been made under ADA guidelines, the landlord will be responsible for the cost.
Common accommodation requests for people with mobility limitations include special door handles, lowered countertops and wheelchair access. Adding grab bars, single-level faucets, rocker light switches and front-loading washing machines and dryers are also common. Tactile strips, non-stick flooring and bright lights help the visually impaired. Visual fire and carbon monoxide alarm and video entrance systems are necessary for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Most renters ask the property manager key questions about a lease before they sign it. It's important to first understand which utilities are covered in the rent, address safety features and discuss parking. (Even if you don't drive, your guests might.)
But requesting reasonable modifications requires amending the standard lease. So you and your landlord will need to agree on a price and timeline.
The revised lease should include the monthly rent, service fees and modifications. It should also detail a timetable for modifications.
Landlords may ask renters to help pay for modifications in several ways. Some request payment upfront. However, others create a payment schedule or require a refundable or non-refundable security deposit. Renters can also put money for modifications into an escrow account.
Your revised lease should say if the modifications will remain in place when you move out or if you'll also be required to pay to return the apartment to its previous state. It should detail if you'll get your security deposit back and how to retrieve unused funds in your escrow account or security deposit.
Finding handicap-accessible apartments is a challenge. But when you know your rights and leverage your resources, you can find the perfect apartment for your needs.