Federal Accessibility Requirements: What Housing Providers Need to Know

October 31, 2014 | by Katie Claflin

Categories: Affordable Housing, Construction, Home Rehabilitation/Repairs, Lending

The month of October has been designated as Texas Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month.  This is a time to encourage public understanding of the disability rights movement and reaffirm our commitment to providing equality and inclusion for people with disabilities. 

In honor of this important month, we have decided to focus this blog post on important rules and regulations that help ensure that Texans with disabilities have the opportunity to live in housing that is safe, accessible and affordable.

Definition of Disability

Federal laws define a person with a disability as "any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment." In general, a physical or mental impairment includes hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex, and mental retardation that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include walking, talking, hearing, seeing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, and caring for oneself.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act provides the following rights to persons with disabilities:

1. Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Example: A housing provider may not refuse to rent to an otherwise qualified individual with a mental disability because s/he is uncomfortable with the individual's disability.

2. Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. The Act also requires that housing providers allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable structural modifications to their housing and related facilties. Reasonable modifications are usually made at the resident's expense. Click here for a list of resources available to help fund building modifications.

Example of a reasonable accommodation:  A housing provider must allow a visually-impaired tenant to have a service dog, even if there is a no-pet policy.

Example of a reasonable modification: A housing provider must allow a tenant with a mobility impairment to install a ramp into their unit.

3. Requires that new multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible. In multifamily housing built after March 13, 1991 that consists of 4 or more units with an elevator, all units must comply with specific design and construction requirements. In multifamily housing built after March 13, 1991 that consists of 4 or more units without an elevator, all ground floor units must comply with these requirements.

Click here for more information about the basic requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Accessibility Requirements for Federally Assisted Housing Programs

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly called Section 504) requires that federally assisted housing programs provide a certain number of accessible housing units meeting the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.  For federally assisted multifamily housing consisting of 5 or more units, 5% of these units (or at least one unit, whichever is greater) must meet UFAS physical accessibility requirements. Additionally, 2 percent of units (or at least one unit, whichever is greater) must be accessible for persons with visual or hearing disabilities. For more information, click here.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA does not usually apply to residential housing. Instead it applies to public places such as restaurants, retail stores, libraries, and hospitals as well as commercial facilities such as offices buildings, warehouses, and factories. However, the ADA does cover common areas (such as the rental office) at housing developments because these areas are open to the general public. For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, click here.

Additional Information for Housing Providers

Check out the Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST website for additional information and resources on how to comply with federal accessibility requirements. It is also important to note that many states have implemented additional accessibility requirements. Click here to view the latest version of the Texas Accessibility Standards.

What to Do if Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you have a disability and you believe your rights have been violated, we encourage you to contact Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of Texans with disabilities.  You can also file a housing discrimination complaint online or contact your local HUD office.

On the House blog posts are meant to provide general information on various housing-related issues, research and programs. We are not liable for any errors or inaccuracies in the information provided by blog sources. Furthermore, this blog is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.


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Hi Eric, see question 12 of the attached FAQ document put out by HUD and the Department of Justice.  This should help answer your question about accessibility requirements for units damaged by fire.  http://www.ada.gov/doj_hud_statement.pdf


What are the requirements for accessible units when you are simply replacing a building damaged by fire with no modifications to the design or layout?

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