There are four key disability nondiscrimination laws that apply to the subject of accessible housing. Two of these laws do not apply only to housing and are covered separately:
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies to housing that is built with federal financial assistance or federal funds
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to state or local government housing programs or activities as well as any public accommodations (e.g., privately owned businesses) that rent space in a building that is otherwise consists of purely private residential housing
For the most part, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), as amended in 1988 is the major law that governs disability housing discrimination (as well as housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, and national origin). FHA’s scope includes private housing, housing that receives federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing. It is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the buyer or renter’s disability, or the fact of disability in an individual associated with the buyer or renter or an individual who intends to live in the residence. Discrimination is also prohibited in such housing-related activities as, for example, financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising. The Fair Housing Act requires:
- Owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to ensure that people with disabilities get equal housing opportunities. For example, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence.
- Landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces such as laundry facilities or mail rooms. The landlord is required to allow the tenant with disabilities to make the changes. However, the landlord is not required to pay to make the changes.
- New multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to maneuver, and other adaptable features within the units.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency authorized to make regulations and enforce the Fair Housing Act. Individuals who have experienced housing discrimination may file a complaint with HUD. The Fair Housing Act also allows for a private right of action.
The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) is an older disability law. It requires that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, or altered with federal funds, or leased by a federal agency, comply with federal standards for physical accessibility. ABA architectural standards standards are limited in application to new and altered buildings and newly leased facilities. The act does not regulate actual activities conducted in those buildings and facilities or require them to be accessible to people with disabilities. U.S. Postal Service services are also covered by the ABA.