Finding an apartment that’s accessible and comfortable is more challenging for disabled apartment hunters and their network of support. But with a clear idea of what’s needed in an apartment and nearby, the task is easier.
If you or a loved one are disabled, you’ll want to keep in mind all the details of what accessible means to you, and be prepared with the right questions during your apartment search.
Newer Complexes: A Better Bet
Under federal law, public and common use areas and most dwelling units in newer apartment complexes are required to meet certain accessibility requirements. For instance, these complexes are required to have accessible parking and public and common use areas. They’re also required to have accessible routes into and around units, doors wide enough to allow passage, and accessible and usable kitchens and bathrooms.
In many jurisdictions, newer apartment complexes may also contain some apartments designed to have features that are more accessible, including ground-level entry, walk-in showers, wider doorways, lower cabinets, and extra floorspace.
ApartmentGuide makes it much easier to find these units from your computer. Using the search feature on our homepage, click ‘More’ and then ‘More options’ to bring up the Features list. Under ‘Additional Amenities,’ check ‘Disability Access’ and then your results will show apartments which offer disability access. (This feature is not yet available via mobile devices).
Hot Tip: According to HUD, these accessibility requirements apply to multifamily dwellings built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. So that date is key to your search.
Ask the Right Questions when Apartment Hunting
When looking for apartments, prepare a list of questions. Knowing these specific details will help you remember your potential needs and make decisions. Here are a few things to look for:
- Are the doors at least 32 inches wide?
- Are doors opened by handle or knobs?
- Are there ramps where you’d need them?
- Can you reach light switches and thermostats?
- Are flooring surfaces easy enough to walk or roll across?
- Can you access the tub or shower?
- Is there a dedicated parking space for handicap access?
Make sure all hallways, including those in public areas, are usable, that the apartment has an accessible kitchen with low-enough counters, and an accessible bathroom that’s big enough with grab bars around the toilet, tub and shower.
In addition to ensuring that your accessible apartment is right for you on the inside, you’ll also want to make sure that it works when you leave home for any number of reasons.
- Can you easily get to common areas?
- Can you reach a grocery store or nearby stores and services?
- How congested are streets and sidewalks?
- Do crosswalks have appropriate lights and crossing sounds for safety?
- If you rely on public transportation, is a stop nearby?
- Do pharmacies and restaurants deliver here?
Relevant Laws & Provisions
The U.S. Housing & Urban Development (HUD) website explains that the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act does not, in most cases, apply to residential housing. It was crafted as a roadmap for accommodation in public places . . . places like like retail stores, restaurants, libraries and hospitals, as well as office buildings, warehouses, factories and other commercial facilities where people are employed.
That said, the ADA does cover certain common areas in residential developments when these areas are open to the public. This typically means that the leasing or rental office at an apartment building must meet additional, generally more strict, accessibility requirements.
When it comes to apartments for disabled tenants, the Fair Housing Act comes into play. As you may know, this law prohibits refusing to lease to someone on the basis of race, sex, familial status or religion. But it ALSO prohibits renting inaccessible housing and refusing reasonable requests to modify housing to make it more accessible if that is necessary for a disability.
Here’s the rub: while they can’t discriminate against you by not allowing you to fill out an application, landlords and property managers are not legally obligated to pay for the extra modifications needed for a person with a disability. So if you find the perfect apartment, but it lacks some of the needed additional handicap modifications, you will need to be prepared to pay for and/or negotiate with the building to address the modifications you need. The property manager may be willing to help, financially, but it is not required to contribute.
At move-out time, your lease will specify (another point of negotiation before you sign!) if the apartment must be returned to its original state, and who will be financially responsible for that process. (Be prepared for the answers to be “yes” and “you”). If you get lucky, the landlord may decide he or she wants to have that unit remain handicap-accessible, and thus no retrofits will be required at lease end.
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