Laws Providing Housing Protections for People with Disabilities

There are several federal laws and State of Maryland laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities in housing.  The laws with widest application include the Fair Housing Act as Amended in 1988, and the Maryland Fair Housing Law.  Information on these and other laws protecting people with disabilities is provided below. 

Federal Fair Housing Act as Amended in 1988 

The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. Additional protections apply to federally assisted housing.  There are 7 protected classes under the law, including people with disabilities.  The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.  People with disabilities are entitled to additional protections under the law.  Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations and allow reasonable modifications that may be necessary to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy their housing. Certain multifamily housing must be accessible to persons with disabilities.  More information on Fair Housing Law can be found at
Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  

Maryland Fair Housing Act 

The Maryland Fair Housing Act is mostly equivalent to the federal Fair Housing Act, however, it adds sexual orientation, marital status, and gender identity as protected classes.  It also prohibits discrimination based on source of income. The law is limited to multifamily housing of 4 or more units.  For more information, go to
Housing Discrimination (maryland.gov) 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities conducted by HUD or that receive financial assistance from HUD.  In addition to its responsibility for enforcing other Federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing, HUD has a statutory responsibility under Section 504 to ensure that individuals are not subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability by any program or activity receiving HUD assistance. Section 504 charges HUD with enforcing the right of individuals to live in federally subsidized housing free from discrimination on the basis of disability.  More information can be found here: Section | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  

Americans with Disabilities Act 

In general, the ADA applies to public places.  However, with regard to housing, Title II of the ADA applies to housing funded by state or local government.  Title III requires accessibility in leasing offices and other areas used by the public.  For more information, go to
A Guide to Disability Rights Laws (ada.gov)


Reasonable Accommodations

Fair Housing Law provides additional protections to people with disabilities in the sale and rental of housing.  It requires owners of rental housing (other than the housing excluded by the law) to provide reasonable accommodations to a person with a disability that are directly related to the disability and would afford the person with enjoyment of the housing like someone without a disability.  

Definition – A reasonable accommodation is defined as a change in rules, policies, practices, or services to give a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.  Reasonable accommodations may be necessary at all stages of the housing process, including application, tenancy, or to prevent eviction.   

Examples of reasonable accommodations include: 

  1. Permitting a change in how a tenant pays rent 
  2. Providing a rental application in a different format such as braille 
  3. Overlooking poor credit due to disability-related medical expenses 
  4. Allowing an assistance animal in a unit where pets are not permitted 
  5. Sending copies of all communications to a second contact person 

How to make a reasonable accommodation request 

  1. When: A request for a reasonable accommodation can be made at any time 
  2. By Who:  A request can be made by the person with a disability or by someone else on their behalf, including a CLC (Community Living Coordinator), case manager, family, friend, staff, etc. 
  3. To Who: A request can be made to anyone who works for the landlord, including the property manager, maintenance staff, administrative staff, etc.   
  4. How: The request can be verbal or in writing.  It is strongly recommended that you make reasonable accommodation/modification requests in writing and give them to the property manager or landlord.  This keeps a record of your request for you and makes the request clear to the landlord.   

Three reasons a request can be denied

There are three reasons why a reasonable accommodation request can be denied: 

  1. The request is not related to the person’s disability.  For example, a person who had poor credit before acquiring a disability could not ask that this be overlooked due to their disability. 
  2. The request would cause the landlord undue financial burden.  This is decided on a case-by-case basis, and HUD looks at the entire financial portfolio of the landlord in determining if it is a financial burden. 
  3. The request would result in a fundamental alteration in the landlord’s services.  For example, a request to have the landlord transport the person with a disability to the grocery store would be a fundamental alteration if the landlord provides housing and has no transportation services.   

What happens after a request is made

When a reasonable accommodation request is made, the landlord must respond in a timely manner to the person who made the request.  A delay in responding can be considered a denial by HUD.   

Accepted: If the request is accepted, the landlord must provide a timeframe within which the request will be completed.  The landlord may ask to meet the need identified in the request in a different manner, and this should be done as a discussion.  For example, a request may have been to have copies of all correspondence to the tenant mailed to the tenant’s father.  The landlord may ask if it would be OK to scan and email the correspondence rather than using the US mail.   

Denied: If the request is denied, the landlord must give a reason for the denial. However, the landlord must continue to consider alternative accommodations that would meet the person’s needs. 

Costs:  The costs for implementing a reasonable accommodation are the responsibility of the landlord.  Parking spaces, signs, restriping considered reasonable accommodations. 

Making a complaint – If you think that your rights have been violated, a complaint can be filed with HUD.  This link provides more information:
File a Complaint – Main Page | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 

You can also file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.  For more information, visit 
File A Complaint (maryland.gov)


Reasonable Modifications

Fair Housing Law also provides a person with a disability the right to request a reasonable modification.

Definition – A Reasonable Modification is a physical alteration to the existing premises to afford a person with a disability full enjoyment of the premises.  

Examples:

  1. Grab bars in the bathroom 
  2. Ramp to the unit sliding door 
  3. Lowered light switches 
  4. Widening a doorway 
  5. Lowering a countertop 
  6. Removing cabinets under a sink 
  7. Placing a microwave on the counter rather than above the stove 

Requests are made in the same manner as requests for reasonable accommodations, and the response process from the landlord is also the same.  It is recommended that requests be made in writing, although a verbal request is a valid way to request a reasonable modification. 

A person with a disability is permitted to make modifications to their unit and to common areas.  The landlord can approve the plan and contractor but cannot require that a specific contractor be used or that more expensive modifications be made.  The landlord must maintain the modification to a common area once is has been made. 

Financing modifications – The costs of making a reasonable modification are typically the responsibility of the tenant.  Exceptions to this are if the development was already required to be accessible under Fair Housing Law, if there is already federal funding involved (other than a tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher) or if there is Maryland Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding in the project that was awarded beginning in 2018. 

Resources for financing modifications that are the financial responsibility of the tenant include: 

  1. Financing with Waiver funding:  DDA waivers include environmental assessment and environmental modification services which can help you decide what modifications you may need and can help to pay for the modifications. 
  2. Financing with Maryland DHCD programs:  DHCD has some low-cost loan and grant programs for adding accessibility to housing.  See section XVIII.B.i for program information. 
  3. Financing with Local Programs:  Some counties have programs that can help to pay for rental home modifications.  For example, Baltimore County has the HAMP program that can assist with this. 
  4. Some local charitable organizations may have funding for home modifications for accessibility. 

Escrow account requirements – A landlord can require a person with a disability to place money in an escrow account to pay for the cost of returning the unit to its previous condition after it has been modified.  However, this can only be required if the modification is likely to make the unit harder to rent in the future.  Some modifications are not considered detrimental to future renting, such as lowered light switches, levered faucet and door handles, widened doorways, and some ramps.  Modifications such as removing cabinets under sinks may need to be restored.