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Landlords Must Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Disabled Tenants

By Jennifer L. Alexander, Esq. February 13, 2019 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

Landlords in New Jersey have a number of duties and responsibilities that they must adhere to with regard to civil rights, fair housing, and issues relating to discrimination. Landlords must, therefore, understand applicable regulations in order to avoid committing a violation that could result in significant civil liability.

If you are a landlord involved in a dispute with a tenant over providing reasonable accommodations, we encourage you to connect with an experienced attorney at Griffin Alexander, P.C. for assistance. Contact our firm to learn more about how our team can help.

The Reasonable Accommodation Mandate

In New Jersey, it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to make reasonable accommodations (with regard to the rules, policies, practices, or services of a given property) when such accommodations would give someone with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the property. This includes reasonable physical modifications of a premises that may be necessary to ensure that a tenant with a disability is able to fully enjoy the premises.

For example, if one of your tenants becomes disabled in an accident and needs to use a wheelchair you may have to take steps to provide or permit reasonable accommodation or modification. The tenant may request that you add a wheelchair ramp to the building, so they can enter, use, and enjoy the building to the same degree as tenants without disabilities. If the ramp is to allow access to a public space, such as the office, the pool, the gym or the garage, your duty to provide reasonable accommodation would likely give rise to an obligation to add a ramp. Failure to install the ramp could expose you to liability under federal and state law. Because in this example the ramp is in a public space you may be responsible for the cost to construct and install the ramp. The same is not true with respect to access to the unit itself or the inside of the unit itself.

Not all accommodations requested by tenants may be reasonable. Reasonableness of an accommodation is determined on a case-by-case basis and a requested accommodation may be so extensive that it is unreasonable. On the opposite side of the spectrum, determining whether an accommodation is sufficient to provide equivalent use and enjoyment as that enjoyed by residents without disabilities is also assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Let's return to our previous example. Suppose that there is no space at the front of the building for a wheelchair ramp, but there is space at the side entrance, which is still connected to the public roads (but one street down). If you build the wheelchair ramp at the side entrance (as opposed to tearing down the entire front of the building and reconfiguring it to fit a new wheelchair ramp), that would likely be considered a reasonable accommodation. It would be unreasonable for the tenant to require that the ramp be built at the front entrance if the environment is not suitable for such a modification.

 If a tenant with a disability has special needs that require making an exception to an existing policy, such as allowing a seeing eye dog in a building with a “no pet” policy, the animal must be allowed, and an additional fee cannot be charged as ‘pet rent’ or as an additional security deposit because assistance and service animals are not considered “pets”. They are reasonable accommodations necessary for tenants with disabilities to enjoy the premises to the same degree as tenants without disabilities.

Parking policies also can require accommodation for tenants with disabilities. If, for example, a community has parking that residents use on a first come first served basis and a tenant has a disability preventing him/her from walking long distances but does not use a handicapped parking placard or license plate, a reasonable accommodation may be to create a reserved parking space close to the tenant’s apartment.

No Additional Fees May Be Charged for Reasonable Modification and Accommodation

 As a landlord, you may not charge a tenant requiring a reasonable modification an additional fee for implementing the reasonable modification, nor can you require a larger security deposit based on the tenant’s requested modification or medical equipment. For example, if a tenant requires that a wheelchair ramp be installed in his/her apartment, you may send him/her an invoice for the cost of installation (or the tenant may arrange for construction of the landlord-approved ramp at the tenant’s own expense), but you cannot charge a fee over and above the cost of installation, nor can you require a larger security deposit based on the modification or, in the above example, wear and tear from the tenant using a wheelchair in the apartment.  

In some cases, however, reasonable modifications may be the responsibility of the landlord, depending on the tenant, the required modification, and the premises. Consulting an experienced firm specializing in landlord tenant law can help eliminate possible exposure to liability from the violation of Federal or State law.

Connect to an Attorney Experienced in New Jersey Landlord Tenant Law for Guidance

 At Griffin Alexander, P.C., our attorneys have extensive experience advocating on behalf of residential and commercial landlords across a variety of real estate disputes, including those that involve tenant's rights relating to disability-related accommodations. We matters that reasonable accommodations are important for enabling people with disabilities to have equal access and enjoyment of property. We are also aware that some tenants without disabilities may try to make requests for accommodations that are not medically necessary. We also have experience working with landlords who may have tenants with legitimate special needs but unreasonable requests or expectations of the landlord.

If you are ready to speak to an attorney experienced in handling claims related to New Jersey landlord tenant law call (973)366-1188 or request an appointment online to speak to an attorney at Griffin Alexander, P.C. about your fair housing and reasonable accommodation dispute or compliance questions.

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