The Federal Fair Housing Act imposes handicap access requirements for residential buildings, including rental units. Many states have also passed legislation with its own requirements. Your landlord may have to comply with the federal requirements, depending on the type of apartment and the number of rental units in your building. This article will discuss the minimum requirements according to the Act.
Accessible Building Entrance
There has to be at least one entrance to the building on an accessible route. The route has to be clear of any obstructions and it has to be continuous so that someone in a wheelchair can navigate it easily. If you have another disability, then you should be able to get to the building entrance using the route without difficulty. For example, the entire route may need to include a ramp and railings or a lift.
Usable Common Use Areas
You should be able to access any common areas easily. That means the interior routes to the common areas has to meet handicap access requirements. For example, multi-level buildings need at least one elevator. The corridors should has have ramps and rails where appropriate so that you can get to the common use area without problems. You should be able to use the common area once you get there. A tiny space that doesn’t allow you to get around with your wheelchair probably violates the requirements of the Act.
One of the first violations that you’ll notice immediately if your landlord is violating the Act are narrow doors. They need to be wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through. If they are not, then the doors are not sufficient to meet the federal requirements for handicap access.
Accessible Route in and throughout the Apartment
Getting into your apartment is not enough. You also have to be able to move around with a wheelchair or there should be other reasonable accommodations if you have another disability. The doorways and hallways should be wide enough, and you need to be able to move around rooms with ease.
Internal Environmental Controls and Outlets
The Act requires that you should be able to access electrical outlets easily. The requirements also extend to thermostats and light switches. It’s primarily a safety issue, because you could fall and injure yourself trying to reach something that’s not in a convenient location.
Bathrooms need grab bars so that you can get on and off the toilet without falling. The bars should also be installed in showers or tubs. The landlord needs to make sure that the walls are reinforced so that it can bear your weight.
Usable Kitchen and Bathrooms
If you cannot move around the kitchen or bathroom with a wheelchair, then it’s not usable. It’s a violation of the Act to rent a unit that doesn’t have a usable kitchen or bathroom. These rooms need enough space for you to maneuver around.
The Act does give landlords a “safe harbor” so that they don’t have to meet all of the federal requirements, if the state requirements meet the safe harbor rules that are outlined in the Fair Housing Act Design Manual. If the building does not meet the federal requirements or state safe harbor rules for handicap access, then the landlord will be subject to fines, and you can sue him for damages.