When managing a property in Alamo Heights or anywhere in the U.S., one of your most significant liabilities is screening tenants. This becomes riskier when the tenant qualifies for reasonable accommodation with a physical or mental disability.
Reasonable Accommodations can range from approved alterations to the property to bending of rules for submission of payment: essentially all aspects of a lease agreement have the potential for accommodation. These accommodations also don’t have to be made known by the new resident until they’ve signed their lease.
Knowing what disabilities qualify for accommodation and how to move forward with the process of accommodating is crucial. Once you have a better understanding of what reasonable accommodation encompasses you may want to consider working with a property management team local to Alamo Heights to avoid liability.
Know What Disabilities Qualify
Navigating the ins and outs of screening tenants with disabilities is feasible on your own, but like any screening, you must adhere to all anti-discrimination laws. A disability requiring accommodation is just a facet of these laws, but one of the more challenging to adhere to legally. Even the most well-intentioned landlord can find themselves liable if they don’t understand what questions are allowed or what proof can be requested of the prospective or current tenant.
So what types of disabilities can be considered for reasonable accommodation? This list of disabilities from findlaw.com is in accordance with the Fair Housing Act or FHA:
- A person with a mental or physical disability that substantially limits a person's ability to perform one or more major life activities
- A person that has a record of the disability
- A person that is considered by others as having the disability
These can include:
- Mobile impairment
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Mental retardation
- Alcoholism (while actively being treated through a recovery program)
- Drug addiction (but not addicted to illegal controlled substances)
- Mental Illness
- Those with HIV/AIDS
Some key takeaways from this list: a person can be considered by others to have a disability without having to acknowledge it themselves, and alcoholism and drug addiction are considered disabilities but only when the person is actively working a program and cannot be using illegal substances.
Know How to Work with Disabled Tenants
Considering these nuanced factors brings us to how a landlord managing a property in Alamo Heights can approach a request for reasonable accommodation. You will encounter these requests both before and after lease signing, and they can sometimes seem disconnected from the disability.
For physical disabilities, it’s easier to connect the dots: wheelchair ramps, specific accessible parking spaces, lowering countertops, or allowing service animals when there’s a no-pet policy.
With mental disabilities or dependence, the requests may be more difficult to decipher the link between the tenant and the accommodation. Revisiting the no-pet policy, a tenant may have a support animal versus a service animal. This type of therapy is relatively new, and there are rumors of people taking advantage of this in other settings, but it’s vital that you don’t discriminate based on this.
These categories are broad in terms of need, but the objective is to show the general issues that you may face when it comes to managing a property in Alamo Heights or areas around San Antonio. Here are some basic guidelines for staying within your boundaries as a landlord:
- You must show whatever apartment is requested or available.
- Example: You can’t guide someone who uses crutches or cane to a ground level apartment if they apply for the third floor.
- Run all background checks and credit checks. Aside from reasonable accommodations, the tenant is still required to qualify financially for the apartment. This is as true in Alamo Heights as it is anywhere else in the United States.
- Example of financial accommodation: Someone has a significant gap in their employment and rental history due to a long-term hospitalization for physical or mental illness. If their current financial situation fits your requirements, you should accommodate this.
- A tenant must request the accommodation. This request doesn’t need to be done with writing or include the language “reasonable accommodation,” but it does have to come from them. Suggesting any accommodation could make you liable for discrimination.
- You may request information from the tenant regarding the accommodation, but you cannot ask for an actual description of the disability.
- Example: If you can’t determine the link between an accommodation and the disability or a gap in financial and rental history you may ask for proof of the need or reason for the gap, but it may not contain a description of the disability. This proof can come in the form of a doctor’s note which can verify the need but nothing more than that.
- All requests must be considered and answered promptly. If you’re still uncertain about an accommodation, it does you no good to sit on it and hope it goes away. The landlord is required by the FHA to respond promptly to a request and if the answer is “no” then the tenant has the right to try to reach a compromise. This process can become lengthy at best, and at worst you could be liable for discrimination. If ever in doubt, contact your lawyer.
- Be Creative! Buildium.com cites an excellent example of a landlord who successfully worked with his tenant with a mental disability. The tenant suffered from hallucinations of voices coming from the walls. Because there was minimal property damage the courts allowed her to stay and the landlord gave her a foam bat to use when the hallucinations returned.
- Know your resources. If a tenants’ disability becomes destructive to property or is potentially harmful to others, you still have to work with the tenant before eviction. Several programs can assist those with legal chemical dependencies and mental disabilities, and the tenant must be given time to get themselves the help they need. Having knowledge specific to managing a property in Alamo Heights or surrounding areas is best since those programs and rules may vary county to county.
- Note: You are never obligated to permit those who present a direct threat to themselves or others to stay once you’ve allowed for treatment, but you must have evidence to show damages or potential harm.
Ultimately, treat those who apply with you as you would any other tenant and only ask for what is necessary to determine if the tenant is financially capable. Be open-minded when it comes to accommodations, and you can reach an agreement that allows you and your tenant to thrive.
Know Who Should Be Responsible for Major Modifications
When accommodations involve modifications to the home, the landlord doesn’t always have to pay for these. In some cases, a modification could improve the value of the home such as ramps in and out of the building. However, other alterations like lowering countertops may have to be reversed. In this situation you have the right to ask the tenant to pay into an interest-bearing escrow account to cover the cost of the remodeling during their stay and after they vacate.
Two things to note: Modifications to the property need to be requested before the work starts and approved by the landlord. A licensed contractor must also complete them. Finding the best contractor for your budget can be difficult, but Real Property Management has the contacts and the experience to get you the best work for the best price.
Know When to Partner with a Property Management Team
This is a bare-bones guide to providing reasonable accommodations for tenants when managing property in Alamo Heights or throughout the United States. With millions of people being diagnosed with mental and physical disabilities, it is safe to assume you will end up screening or renting to someone who needs accommodations. Trying to avoid the legal pitfalls on your own can be overwhelming, which is why it may be in your best interest to partner with a property management team.
A company like Real Property Management prides itself on staffing each of their teams with experts: experts in the field of property management, property and tenant laws and rights, and experts in local rules and regulations specific to your area like Alamo Heights or the San Antonio area. When you partner with Real Property Management Campanas, you acquire a legal representative who knows how to screen tenants of all backgrounds and abilities legally and ethically.
Download your free guide to Finding the Best San Antonio and Surrounding Area Property Manager today and rest easy knowing that your investment is in good hands.