Families, seniors, those with disabilities FAQs

Can a housing provider refuse to rent to families with children?

Generally, a housing provider such as a landlord cannot refuse to rent to an applicant because there are children in the family. The requirements for rental and the terms and conditions must be the same for families with children as for any other applicant or tenant. The one exception to this rule involves housing that has been specifically designed for senior citizens (persons 55 and older in some cases or 62 and older in others). To qualify as “senior housing,” a housing accommodation must meet specific legally defined requirements, which may include a minimum number of units, age-based residency limits and design features.

Is it legal to develop and market housing for seniors?

Yes, but the facility or community must prove that its housing is:

  • Provided under any state or federal program that HUD has determined to be specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons (as defined in the state or federal program);
  • Designed to meet the physical and social needs of senior citizens; or
  • A mobile home park that:
    • Is intended for, and solely occupied by, people 62 years of age or older; or
    • Is intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older, with at least 80% of the occupied units occupied by at least one person who is 55 or older, and the park publishes and adheres to policies and procedures demonstrating the intent for occupancy by people 55 or older, and the park complies with HUD’s rules for verification of occupancy.
Are tenants or applicants with disabilities entitled to special treatment?

Yes, they are eligible for reasonable accommodations. Although not discriminating usually means treating everyone the same, disability discrimination is different. When necessary for people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing, the housing provider must allow them to make reasonable modifications of the premises and must make reasonable accommodations, meaning changes to rules, practices, and services.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are done that helps residents or applicants with disabilities have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing, such as changing a policy or rule.

Can Be Reasonable Accommodations Not Reasonable Accommodations
  • Reserved parking spaces
  • Making exceptions to a no-pets policy
  • Changing the deadline to pay rent
  • Allowing a third party to cosign the lease or pay the rent
  • Allowing a live-in aide
  • Delaying eviction
  • Modifying the terms of a lease
  • Reducing the rent
  • Permitting use of illegal drugs (including medicinal marijuana, which is illegal under federal law)
  • Adding an elevator to a building without one
Can a housing provider have a “no pets” rule?

Yes, but the housing provider must make exceptions to the rule, which are called reasonable accommodations, when necessary for people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing. Refusing to allow necessary service animals or emotional-support animals is illegal discrimination. Service animals and emotional-support animals are not subject to breed, size, or weight restrictions ordinarily applied to pets, and tenants must not be charged pet deposits or pet rent for them.

If a tenant with a disability needs to modify his/her unit, is the housing provider required to pay for the modification?

A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, interior or exterior, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability in order to have full enjoyment of the premises.

In most instances, the tenant is responsible for all costs connected to the modification but a landlord or homeowners association (HOA) cannot refuse to allow a reasonable request. Under certain circumstances the tenant may be required to restore the premises to the condition that existed before the modification (other than for reasonable wear and tear). Parking space requests are accommodations and not modifications and the landlord/HOA is required to pay for these costs.

However, federally assisted housing providers must pay for disability-related reasonable modifications. Here are more details on the federal regulations.

How does a housing provider know when someone really has a disability and needs an accommodation or modification?

If a housing provider is skeptical of a tenant’s alleged disability, he or she can ask the tenant for medical verification of the disability-related need for accommodation or modification. The housing provider is only entitled to verification that the tenant has a disability, not identification of the disability or diagnosis, and that there is an identifiable relationship between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability.