Landlords in Houston might need to make modifications to a rental unit to accommodate a disabled tenant. The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable modifications required for a disabled tenant to use the rental property safely. For example, a tenant who uses a wheelchair might ask their landlord to install a ramp, widen a doorway, or install a walk-in tub.
Texas landlords are only expected to pay for accommodations that don’t create an undue financial or administrative burden. For instance, if a tenant requests lever-style door handles that can be pushed with an arm, you’ll need to pay for that modification. Door handles are cheap and installation is easy. However, you’re not responsible for financing all modification requests.
Installing a walk-in tub, for example, is often an expense that falls at least partially on the tenant. Walk-in tubs cost thousands of dollars and the installation isn’t cheap. A tenant might be within their rights to have you pay for the installation, but they’ll need to buy the tub.
Be cautious about denying modification requests
Before denying a tenant’s request, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends having a discussion with your tenant to find a compromise. For example, if your tenant requests a brand name wheelchair lift for the stairs, talk with your tenant about getting a cheaper alternative of equal quality.
An unreasonable request worthy of denial would be if a tenant asks you to rip out the front porch stairs and add a built-in ramp so they can get in and out of the house in a wheelchair. Building a separate ramp that goes over the existing stairs would accomplish the same goal and it would be cheaper and easier. This would be an acceptable compromise.
Reaching a compromise is key with modification requests. If you can’t reach a compromise, your tenant might file a complaint with the HUD. Be absolutely certain that a tenant’s request is unreasonable before denying that request. The HUD prosecutes thousands of complaints each year where landlords have refused to make reasonable accommodations.
- Know that administrative modifications are valid
Reasonable accommodations can include both physical modifications to the home and modifications to the administrative process. For example, it’s reasonable for a tenant with memory problems to ask for a phone call reminder to pay the rent.
- Have a plan for rejecting unreasonable requests
At some point, you’ll need to reject an unreasonable request. For example, say a tenant wants you to remove the bathtub and replace it with a shower. This type of modification would make things easier for your tenant, but it might not be considered reasonable if your tenant is physically capable of using a transfer bench in the tub.
- Always lift a ‘no pets’ policy for service and companion animals
In short, always lift your no pets policy for service animals and companion animals and be ready to handle some complicated situations.
You’re probably well aware of a tenant’s right to have a service or companion animal no matter what the pet policy says. This applies to all situations, even when a service or companion animal will cause harm to another tenant (like allergies and fears).
It sounds harsh for existing tenants, but there’s never a situation where it’s legal to reject an applicant because of their service or companion animal.
No situation allows you to deny a tenant with a companion or service animal
Say you rent a three-bedroom house to different tenants and you have one empty bedroom you’re trying to fill. One of your existing tenants is severely allergic to dogs and will have to call 911 if they’re exposed to dog fur even for ten minutes.
You probably wouldn’t allow a new tenant with a dog to move into the empty room. However, if a new tenant has a service or companion dog, you can’t say no. Even though one of your existing tenants is deathly allergic to dogs and could end up in the hospital, you aren’t allowed to deny an applicant for their service or companion animal.
It doesn’t sound fair, but that’s how the law works. When a tenant requests a modification to the pet policy for a companion or service animal, be ready to accommodate them and deal with some potentially hard situations if other tenants are involved.
- Be willing and happy to accommodate reasonable requests
While Houston landlords are required by law to accommodate reasonable requests, the process is easier when you want to accommodate those reasonable requests. Many tenants have been unfairly denied simple requests by former landlords and will be skeptical when making requests to you. They might come across combative, so stay positive and happy to help.
Maintain a positive attitude toward every request while you make your consideration. Treating all requests with an outwardly positive demeanor will make your tenants feel less defensive.
- Have extra cash available for funding modifications
Hopefully you’ve got a decent savings account to cover maintenance and repairs, but do you have enough to cover modifications? If not, start saving a little more to build up a modifications fund. The law says you’re not responsible for funding expensive modifications, but it’s a good idea to have a reserve fund just for modifications.
- Verify the tenant’s disability when necessary
A requested modification must be directly related to a tenant’s disability. If you can’t see how a tenant’s request isn’t related to their disability or you’re not sure your tenant is actually disabled, it’s perfectly legal to ask for proof. However, it’s not legal to ask the tenant for details about their disability.
There are three ways you can obtain verification:
- Ask the tenant to give you a credible statement verifying their disability and need for the modification
- Ask the tenant to show you their disability check
- Request a note from the tenant’s doctor that verifies they are disabled, describes the requested accommodation, and establishes the connection between the request and the disability.
A doctor’s note doesn’t need to tell you what the tenant’s disability is – just that the specific modification request is necessary and related to their disability.
Remember that you can’t ask a tenant about their disability in any way during the screening process. You’re never allowed to ask a tenant about the nature of their disability or its severity.
Are tenant requests stressing you out?
Are you stressed out from handling tenant requests? Green Residential can help. We’re a full-service property management company in the Houston, Texas area. We manage all the landlord duties you don’t have time to handle. We handle everything including tenant screening, reasonable accommodations, rent collection, evictions, property marketing, maintenance, and repairs.
Does being a landlord require too much time and energy? Contact us today for a free analysis and find out how we can help.