What are the rights of the disabled when asking a landlord to make “reasonable modifications”?
It is widely understood that, under Federal, state and local law, it is illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. When it comes to housing, for example, landlords can be required to provide accommodations for the disabled to help make an apartment or home more accessible to those with physical or mental impairments. For those who refuse, the penalties can be substantial, as one New York landlord recently discovered.
New York City’s Human Rights Commission has fined a Queens, New York landlord who refused to put in a bathtub to accommodate a tenant with severe disabilities. The new tub would have cost the landlord $10,000. The damages and penalties as a result of the complaint: $120,000.
Mother Asks Landlord for More Accessible Bathtub for Her Disabled Daughter
The complaint involved a 17-year-old who suffered from autism, seizures, cleft palate and poor vision. The disabled daughter had to wear a leg brace and often moved around the apartment by crawling. The bathtub was too high for her to access. Her mother asked the landlord to install a lower tub that might be easier for her daughter to use. The landlord refused.
The girl’s mother then sought the help of the New York City Human Rights Commission, which sided with her and ordered that a new tub be installed. Its estimated cost to the landlord would have been between $8500 and $10,000.
New York City’s Human Rights Commission Charges Landlord With Failing to Make the Modification
When the landlord did nothing for two years, the Human Rights Commission brought charges, seeking damages and penalties totaling $370,000. An administrative law judge concluded that both the tenant and her daughter had suffered anxiety and emotional distress and awarded them $80,000 in damages. The judge also fined the landlord $40,000.
While reasonable modifications for the disabled cost money, they are a responsibility that comes with the territory for any business that provides “public accommodations,” from retailers and restaurants to real estate developments. If you are disabled and feel you have been mistreated or your needs ignored by your landlord or by any other business, you may have grounds for legal action. An experienced disability attorney can evaluate your claim and fight for your rights on your behalf.