What is a Reasonable Modification?
A “reasonable modification” is a structural change to a home or common areas that is necessary to enable a person with disabilities to have full use and enjoyment of the premises. Fair housing laws require housing providers (i.e., landlords, homeowners’ associations) to allow reasonable modifications.
Reasonable Modifications Must…
- Be made by or on behalf of a person with disabilities. This person can be a housing seeker, property owner in a condominium development, or rental housing tenant. It can also include household members and, in some cases, frequent visitors to the home.
- Be requested and approved. Fair housing laws do not permit a resident to make structural modifications without the housing provider’s permission. In addition, this would probably violate contract and property laws.
- Be connected to the person’s disability. For example, many reasonable modification requests involve installing a wheelchair ramp. Unless the person’s disability made a wheelchair necessary, there would be no connection, or “nexus,” between the person’s disabling condition and the need for a wheelchair ramp.
- Be supported by documentation from a health provider or other person who can establish that the person has a disability and explain the nexus between the disability and the accommodation request—unless the disability is apparent to the housing provider.
- Be “reasonable.” A housing provider does not have to grant an unreasonable request. If the disabled person is responsible for the cost, most necessary modifications are reasonable unless they create health or safety hazards or make other units inaccessible to residents.
- Be taken seriously. Unreasonably delaying or denying a reasonable modification request may be illegal.
Special Considerations for Reasonable Modifications
- Design & Construction. The Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily buildings (more than four units) built after March 1991 to meet certain accessibility standards. If a building does not meet those standards, the owner may be required to retrofit the unit—at the owner’s expense—in response to a reasonable modification request.
- Aesthetic Considerations. If a housing provider would like to change a modification plan to make it more aesthetically pleasing, the provider can propose alternatives; however, if these changes would make the project more expensive, the housing provider is responsible to pay the difference.
- Permits & Building Standards. Once a housing provider approves a modification, the resident is responsible for getting permits, if necessary, and assuring that the modification is completed in a “workmanlike manner.” The housing provider may not require the resident to use a licensed contractor (although California law may require the use of a licensed contractor for certain types of work).
- Removing Modifications. If a resident makes modifications inside the home that would not be desired by future occupants, and if it is reasonable, the housing provider can require the resident to return the home to its original condition.
- Who Pays? In private housing (including Section 8 voucher rentals), the provider has to allow reasonable modifications, but the resident has to pay for them. However, when a housing provider receives direct federal funding (i.e., public housing or “project-based Section 8,” the housing provider may be required to cover the costs.
For a more complete description of fair housing laws as they relate to reasonable modifications, click here to view the Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice: Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act.
How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation
The GBLA Fair Housing Law Project recommends making reasonable modification requests in writing so the request is properly documented. If the person’s disability or “nexus” is not apparent, documentation from a health care provider may be necessary. The person also may need to provide drawings, diagrams, plans, or other information about the proposed work.
The GBLA Fair Housing Law Project can help in getting the right documentation from your health care provider and making the request to your housing provider. This can help to assure that the request is properly supported and that housing provider is educated about its obligations. We can also help negotiate with the housing provider on your behalf.