Under Federal Fair Housing Laws
Note on Use: The guide is intended to help persons with disabilities request reasonable accommodations and modifications in housing. For information on legal requirements for reasonable accommodations and modifications, see Housing Rights of People with Disabilities by Access Living. The guidelines below are general and may not be appropriate in all cases, and the law is subject to change at any time. When in doubt, contact an attorney.
Write a letter instead of making a verbal request. Although the law doesn’t require you to make a written request, it is advisable to do so. A letter creates a written record that you requested the accommodation or modification.
Structure of the letter: It isn’t important to cite the law, but it is important to include facts that establish your legal right to an accommodation or modification. To do so, follow the structure listed below:
A. State your name and where you live. Include enough information to identify your house or apartment, such as your address, building name, etc.
B. Identify your disability. Usually, you can do so by stating your disability in general terms, for example: “I have a physical disability and use a wheelchair” or “I have a psychiatric disability.
C. Identify everyday activities your disability prevents or limits you from doing. There is no list of or limit to activities you can name, but they should be activities most people perform regularly. For example, a person with paraplegia could say, “I cannot walk.” A person who is deaf could say, “I cannot hear.”
D. Identify what you need. For example, do you need a rule waived? Permission to build something? An accessible parking space? Be as specific as possible.
NOTE: Remember that, in general, you must pay for modifications or changes to existing premises, unless the building is federally subsidized (this does not include Housing Choice vouchers). For example, you cannot ask for a wheelchair ramp in a private, non-subsidized apartment unless you are prepared to pay for it.
E. Link or relate your need for the requested accommodation/modification to your identified disability. A deaf person doesn’t need a wheelchair ramp, and a wheelchair user doesn’t need a visual alarm. Explain why your disability means that you need the requested accommodation/modification. For example, if you ask for permission to have a service animal, you should explain why your disability makes a service animal necessary for you to live in your home.
F. Explain, as best you can, why the request is “reasonable.” Use common sense to identify why your request isn’t objectionable or overly burdensome.
G. Offer to discuss your request. Negotiating accommodations and modifications is a collaborative process. Be prepared to discuss with your housing provider how he or she can meet your needs, even if he or she cannot grant your specific request. (Your housing provider should also be prepared to meet with you.)
H. Request a response. Unless the situation is urgent, give a reasonable amount of time to respond (i.e. 10 days). Ask for a written response.
I. Date the letter. The date should correspond to when you actually mailed or delivered the letter. If you hand-delivered or faxed the letter, indicate this.
J. Sign the letter and keep a copy. Your signature does not need to be notarized.
Verifying Your Disability and Need for Accommodation/Modification
You need not provide medical documentation in your initial request. However, your housing provider may ask you for documentation if either your disability or your need for an accommodation/modification is not obvious.
This documentation does not need to be extensive, but should be more than a prescription or quick note. A treating professional (i.e. doctor, psychologist, or therapist) should write a short letter that confirms, at a minimum:
• The general nature of your disability (physical, mental, cognitive, or sensory). The letter does not need to include an official diagnosis; however, in some instances it is beneficial to identify the exact nature of the disability/diagnosis;
• Your everyday functional limitations; and
• Why you need the accommodation/modification to live in your home.
The following is a sample doctor’s letter establishing a person’s non-apparent disability (multiple chemical sensitivities) and corresponding need for an accommodation. It is intended as a sample only. All names and identifying information have been omitted.
[Resident] has been my patient since [date]. She has chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome. Her symptoms upon exposure to certain environmental incitants (i.e. herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer, acids, paint, exhaust fumes, asphalt, smoke) include, but are not limited to, shortness of breath, throat swelling and sever fatigue. It is imperative that she avoid these incitants in order to minimize potentially life-threatening reactions. Due to [resident’s] reactions, which are numerous, she has been essentially homebound over the past four years.
Therefore, I feel it is medically necessary for [resident] to be notified prior to any construction, maintenance, or other related activities that might be scheduled to take place near her home. I am asking that you provide her with 48 hours notice, so that she can make appropriate arrangements to vacate her home, pack specific items such as bedding, towels, oxygen, food and water, and get to an incitant-free environment.
- Ken Walden