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New York Tenants Can Fight Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination claims are among some of the most common complaints made by tenants to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with the agency reporting such claims comprised 55 percent of the total housing complaints filed last year.
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New York landlord dispute attorneys recognize that the federal laws are quite clear that discrimination is unacceptable. Proving it, however, can sometimes be a different matter.

Landlords have a responsibility under federal law to accommodate legitimate needs stemming from your disability, which could be either physical or mental. The Fair Housing Act requires that all landlords with five or more units comply with these rules, while the Americans With Disabilities Act applies primarily to public housing authorities.

The law specifies two types of adaptations that can be made for a disabled tenant. The first is a “reasonable accommodation,” which would be some exception or change to the landlord’s regular policy or rule. The other is a “reasonable modification,” which would be some change to the physical structure of the tenant’s individual unit or in the common spaces available to all tenants.

The law was deliberately written somewhat broadly, as those who drafted it recognized that almost every situation is going to vary. The question of what is “reasonable” is where most courts are left to offer their own interpretation.

The general rule for physical modifications is that a tenant should be allowed to modify their apartments themselves at their own expense, but a landlord isn’t necessarily required to shell out money to help. So for example if a tenant needs to have the counter tops lowered or requires special door handles or faucets or a wheelchair ramp from one room to another, usually these would be things for which tenants would pay. Again, they have to be “reasonable” changes and the landlord has the right to sign off with prior approval.

An example of a reasonable accommodation might be that a landlord would allow a service dog to reside in the residence with a vision-impaired tenant, where the policy might otherwise restrict pets. In these cases, landlords shouldn’t require additional fees, but the tenant could be held financially liable if the service animal caused any damage to the property.

Another example would be a request to have a caregiver live in the unit in order to help aid in the care of the disabled tenant.

With housing discrimination complaints, bear in mind that time is of the essence. A HUD complaint has to be filed within a year of the incident, while a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court has a two-year statute of limitations. For this reason, even tenants who aren’t sure whether their situation qualifies should still meet with an attorney as soon as possible. He or she should be able to tell you if your case meets the standard for discrimination and help you determine the best course of action.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides landlord tenant representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
How Disabled Tenants can Fight Discrimination, Aug. 28, 2013, By Poonkulali Thangavelu, Bankrate.com

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