Home Act Hearing Reveals Landlords Already Discriminating

By Forward Baltimore Editors.

Our post from Corey Johns listed and debunked some of the myths that abound about the Home Act. At the Baltimore County Council work session this past Tuesday, we noticed an error in some testimony that we thought required addressing, as well.

It was stated that landlords would have to install ramps for tenants if this bill passes, which would put an unfair burden on landlords. This concern is simply not true. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 is the law that protects disabled citizens from housing discrimination. (Before that law went into effect in 1989, people with disabilities were not a protected class.)

Here are the key facts:

  • The Fair Housing Amendments Act applies to all renters regardless as to whether they possess a Housing Choice Voucher, reside in “project based housing,” or are paying market rate rent, as many people with disabilities do.
  • Housing providers must permit reasonable structural modifications of existing premises (such as ramps) if such modifications are necessary for a person with a disability to be able to live in and use the premises.
  • The cost of the modification is actually to be paid by the resident with a disability.
  • It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to allow a tenant with a disability to make modifications, at the tenant’s expense, which would permit the tenant to fully enjoy the premises.
  • Refusing to permit a tenant to make modifications to a lobby, entryway, parking lot or laundry room, is also discriminatory.
  • The landlord can, where reasonable, require the tenant to restore the interior of the premises to the condition it was in prior to the modification. Premises are defined to include interior and exterior parts.

Thus, ALL landlords are already legally obligated to allow structural modifications, such as ramps, and NONE of them are required to pay the costs of those modifications. In fact, many renters forgo structural modifications because of the costs involved and of the burden of having to restore the property back to its previous state when moving.

One could (and probably should!) argue that this law places an unfair burden on the tenant who has to pay for the modifications. Fortunately, there are programs in place to help pay the cost, based on income and specific disability diagnoses, of structural modifications through a combination of Federal and State funds. We list some of those programs below.

During the Home Act hearing, another landlord suggested increasing a disabled tenant’s monthly rental payment in order to cover the costs of construction, which seemed to shock many in attendance. With the disabled renter required to pay that cost, however, increasing the rental payments is actually a reasonable accommodation that a disabled renter can ask for so that they can pay for the costs of modification in installments.

Either way, some of the testimony at the hearing showed ignorance of the laws governing rental properties, which has only compounded the misinformation surrounding the Home Act.

Resources for Maryland Residents:

Maryland Access Point
Maryland Medicaid Guide to Home and Community-Based Long Term Care Services
Maryland Technology Assistance Program
Low Intensity Support Services

Resources for Baltimore County Residents:

The Conciliation Housing Accessibility Modification Program and Housing Accessibility Modification Program
The IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities

To Learn more about how the Fair Housing Act Amendment protects disabled renters, please see this booklet published by United Spinal Association.

If you are a disabled renter who has been denied a necessary structural modification you can contact:

The Baltimore County Human Relations Commission
Disability Rights Maryland

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