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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Disability > Housing

Legal Protections Against Housing Discrimination

People with disabilities have legal rights when it comes to housing.  Federal, state, and local laws protect those rights.

The Fair Housing Act sometimes requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable changes to their own living area or to common areas at their own expense, if needed, to provide access. This can include physical changes such as lowering countertops, putting handrails in bathrooms, or installing a ramp to provide access to a room. The modifications must be reasonable.  They can’t make the apartment unacceptable to following tenants, for example, unless they come to some sort of agreement—such as agreeing to undo the changes when leaving.  People with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their living space and any common area.  However, they should get approval from the landlord before making any physical changes. 

Some new multi-family housing units must be designed and built to allow access to people with disabilities. See How to File a Complaint (from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) for more information. Buildings constructed with federal funds generally must be accessible according to the Architectural Barriers Act (from the United States Access Board). Also, Section 504 (from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) of the Rehabilitation Act protects people with disabilities from some forms of discrimination in housing, if federal funds were used. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) (See Housing Discrimination from the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights) has similar rules against disability discrimination. Some regulations and construction ordinances, like the New Jersey Barrier Free Subcode (See N.J.A.C. 5:23-7 from the Department of Community Affairs), may sometimes require accessibility in construction.

The law also sometimes requires landlords to make reasonable changes to policies, services, and rules if they are needed to accommodate a person with a disability.  Such changes must normally be at the landlord’s expense.  Examples include allowing service dogs even though they have a “no pets” policy, assigning a close parking space for a person with a disability if parking is provided, giving a person more time to comply with rules, or asking for an available lower floor apartment for a person with a mobility impairment. 

In some cases, a request for accommodation might be used as a defense against eviction.  For example, a person with a mental illness who caused minor damage or a disturbance that would normally warrant eviction, might request an accommodation for their disability upon showing that they will get treatment to keep it from happening again.

If you need an accommodation for your disability and the need is not obvious to the landlord, the landlord can ask for proof that you need the accommodation.  A letter from your doctor stating that you need the accommodation due to a medical condition is sufficient.  You don’t need to explain your medical conditions in detail.

For more information about your legal rights in relation to housing, see the LSNJLAW Housing section. Also, if you have a dispute with a landlord and need advice, or assistance, you can call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey's statewide, toll-free legal hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).​​​​