This podcast is about the right of people with disabilities to ask for exceptions to rental housing rules, so that they have equal opportunities to use and enjoy the housing. This right is protected by the Fair Housing Act and the Maine Human Rights Act.
This podcast provides a brief overview of fair housing laws, explains how to ask for a reasonable accommodation, gives reasons why a request may be denied, and provides contact information for further assistance.
You can read text of the podcast here:
The federal Fair Housing Act was passed to protect people from housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or the presence of children. These are known as protected classes. The Fair Housing Act says a person with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, someone who is regarded as having such an impairment, or someone who has a record of such an impairment.
The Maine Human Rights Act added sexual orientation, ancestry and source of income to the list of protected classes. Maine’s Human Rights Act is substantially equivalent to the Fair Housing Act, which means that the same rights and remedies that federal fair housing laws provide also exist under Maine law. The Maine Human Rights Act defines physical or mental disability as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, significantly impairs physical or mental health, or requires special education, vocational rehabilitation or related services. In Maine, “significantly impairs” means that the disability lasts, or is expected to last, longer than 6 months. The Maine law covers many different physical and mental disabilities, ranging from artificial limbs, to heart disease to schizophrenia. You can read the whole list by looking at Title 5 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 4553-A.
A reasonable accommodation is an exception to housing rules, policies and practices. You may request one whenever your disability or your child’s disability creates a special need. For example, you might need an accommodation to be admitted as a tenant because of your disability. Or you might be a tenant already and you have become disabled. Or maybe a notice has been delivered to you about a behavior related to your disability. There are many different reasons to ask for a reasonable accommodation. Here are two examples.
- A landlord has a no-pet policy. A tenant’s child has severe anxiety. Her doctor recommends an assistance animal to help reduce the child’s anxiety. The tenant would make a request to have an assistance animal, based on the child’s disability.
- An apartment complex requires tenants to sign 12 month leases. A man signs the lease, but after a few months, he has to move out in order to live closer to his cancer treatment center. He would request a reasonable accommodation to be let out of the lease early, because of his disability.
It is best to give written requests for reasonable accommodations to your housing provider. If your disability prevents you from writing, make the request verbally, but follow up by putting the request into writing. You can ask someone to help you.
To make a request in writing:
- State that you have a physical or mental disability that is creating a special need.
- Request an accommodation to a housing rule, policy or practice that address the special need.
- Include a letter of support or verification from a specialist.
The letter of verification can be written by a doctor, counselor or other specialist who is familiar with you and your special need. The letter should describe your symptoms and state that the accommodation is necessary to help you manage your symptoms. It does not need to name your diagnosis.
What if you don’t know what accommodation you need? You can ask your housing provider for a meeting to talk about solutions to the problem. State that you have a disability which is creating a special need. Describe the problem you are facing. State that you want to discuss a reasonable accommodation. Make your request in writing and include a letter of support from a doctor, counselor, caseworker or other specialist that describes your symptoms.
Housing providers can deny a reasonable accommodation request if granting the request would cause an undue administrative or financial burden. To be denied, the expense or extra administrative work must be inappropriate, excessive or disproportionate. A request can’t be denied just because it will cost something, or the housing provider will have to do extra work though. Even if the housing provider says the request is unreasonable, he or she should work with you to find an acceptable solution. For example, if the accommodation would cost too much, you might come up with something that costs less. Housing providers can also deny a reasonable accommodation request if the fundamental nature of the housing program would be changed. A request that asks a landlord to walk your service animal, for example, would change the nature of the housing program.
If you need help drafting a request or believe your housing provider has unjustly denied your request, contact the Pine Tree Legal office nearest you to find out if you qualify for services. Go here to contact us. You can also file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Go here for instructions and to file a complaint.