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Covering the Cost of Reasonable Modifications on Homes and Rentals

Accessibility, Employment

By Lauren Paxton*

Many people with disabilities are surprised to learn that often, they must pay for reasonable modifications to their condo, apartment, or other types of housing covered by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The cost of reasonable modifications may be expensive, especially for individuals living on a tight budget or paying high disability-related costs. Many struggle to figure out how to pay for widening their doors or adding ramps to the entrance of their housing unit. This blog post shares:

  • background about reasonable modifications,
  • links to where individuals can learn more about the FHA’s accessibility and reasonable modification requirements, and
  • a link to a NEW DRAZ publication that outlines many resources that may cover some or all of the reasonable modification costs through grants or loans.

What is a Reasonable Modification?

Under the FHA, reasonable modifications are structural changes made to existing units or common areas to allow a person with a disability to have full and equal enjoyment of the housing. Examples of reasonable modifications include:

  • widening doors,
  • installing grab bars at toilets and bathtubs or showers,
  • adding a ramp to an entrance or exit or a pool lift to the community pool,
  • switching door levers for the doorknobs,
  • installing an automatic door opener, 
  • adding a shade screen to a patio,
  • installing visual alarms in the front office, meeting rooms and community rooms, 
  • lowering a peephole in a door,
  • lowering mailboxes so that they are within reach of people using wheelchairs, and
  • replacing carpet with tile or wood flooring.

Who Pays for Installation of the Reasonable Modification?

The FHA states that generally, landlords and homeowner associations must approve requests made by a renter or homeowner for reasonable modifications. However, tenants and homeowners—not the housing provider—pays for the installation costs of the reasonable modification.

There are two exceptions. First, if the housing is funded through federal grants or other federal financial assistance, then the cost of the reasonable modification is at the housing provider’s expense. Second, if the housing unit is covered by the FHA’s accessibility standardsthe housing provider will be responsible for those costs, if any, associated with the failure to meet the accessibility standards. For example, a tenant who uses a wheelchair moves into a new apartment complex on a ground floor unit. He finds that the environmental and lighting controls are too high to reach and exceed the FHA accessibility standard. Then, the housing provider may be responsible for the costs of lowering the environmental and lighting controls. If, on the other hand, the housing provider failed to follow the accessibility guideline for including reinforced walls for later installation of grab bars in a bathroom, the housing provider would be liable for the cost of adding reinforced walls and the renter would be responsible for the installation of the grab bars on the reinforced walls.

For more background information about the FHA’s accessibility standards for covered units in covered multifamily dwellings and reasonable modifications, listen to KJZZ’s program titled “(In)Accessible.” HUD provides two related guides: Reasonable Modifications Under the Fair Housing Act and Questions and Answers about the Accessibility Guidelines under the FHA.

Are There Resources to Pay for Reasonable Modifications if I Can’t Afford Them?

All in all, there are many resources that may help you cover the cost of reasonable modifications to your home, whether it’s as small as adding a ramp to your hallway or as big as adding an accessory apartment for a caregiver. Program eligibility, qualifications, and restrictions apply and vary among the programs. Click here to read DRAZ’s NEW guide and infographic about possible sources of funding for reasonable modifications in housing.

*Laura Paxton is an intern at the Arizona Center for Disability Law. She is a junior at Arizona State University pursuing undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Economics.

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