Finding Accessible Housing

Man in wheelchair loading dishwasher in accessible kitchen

Contents

Purpose

Finding accessible housing to rent or to buy can be hard. This tip sheet suggests where to find listings. It also suggests what to say to landlords or property owners. Some groups may have lists of accessible rental units or homes for sale nearby. But you may find more on general lists and ads. The Fair Housing Act and Section 504 protect people from housing discrimination based on disability. Iowa Compass can tell you more about accessible housing, including:

  • Where you can find information about home modification products.
  • A list of contractors who know about universal home design and accessibility.

Definitions

Accessible Housing: This housing is built or remodeled for people with disabilities or for older adults who want to age in place. This housing lets people live on their own. It may have wider halls and doorways, lever door handles in place of door knobs, or room for people who use wheelchairs or walkers to turn around. There may be built-in communication tools or alarms.

Section 504: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a U.S. law that protects people with disabilities, including those buying or renting a home. Section 504 says programs that get federal funds cannot discriminate based on disability. This includes housing providers who get federal funding. They may have to make “reasonable accommodations” to buildings for people with disabilities.

Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act is a U.S. law that protects people who buy or rent homes from discrimination by the seller or landlord. This includes discrimination based on disability.

Housing Modifications/Reasonable Modifications: These are structural changes made to a rental unit or home to make it possible for a person with disability to enjoy its full use. The law says the tenant asks for and pays for these changes. It also says the landlord must agree to these changes as long as they are reasonable. (See more about this below.)

Universal Home Design: This means the set-up of a unit or home gives full use to each person, young or old, with or without disabilities. This may mean bathroom grab bars and a roll-in shower. It may mean a bedroom on the main floor. It may mean a kitchen with appliances that are easy to reach.

Disability Discrimination: This means to treat someone with a disability not the same as someone who does not have a disability..

Finding Accessible Rental Housing

Where to Look:

  • Local classifieds: Look at listings in newspapers and community bulletins. Check out websites such as Craigslist.com.
  • Local property management companies: Look for them in the yellow pages of the phonebook under “Property Management.” Ask property managers about accessible apartments or houses available for rent. Ask if an accessible unit will be open soon.
  • Rental listing websites: To find these websites online, search for “Iowa rentals” or “Iowa apartments.” Or use words like these. Often you can search rental listing websites by price range, number of bedrooms and miles from a city or zip code.
  • IowaHousingSearch.org: IowaHousingSearch.org is a rental housing locator funded by Iowa Finance Authority. The locator also can identify properties that have accessible features, and those that support Section 8 vouchers.

What to Say:

Make a list of all you need to get full use of a rental unit or home. This list will show the landlord or property manager what will make it accessible for you. Their sense of accessible may not be the same as yours. Give them details. For example, if you need widened doorways, say how wide.

Modifying Rental Housing for Accessibility

You may be able to modify a rental unit to meet your accessibility needs. For example, you could add a ramp to a rental home. Or modify the bathroom of a rental apartment.

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 says you have the right to request permission to make “reasonable modifications” of a rental unit at your own expense. If the landlord requires you to remove the modification when you move out, this will also be at your own expense. Learn more about “reasonable modifications” under the Fair Housing Act from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice publication “Reasonable Modifications Under the Fair Housing Act”1. http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/reasonable_modifications_mar08.pdf.

In some cases, the landlord or owner may be required to provide the modification free of charge2.

Buying an Accessible Home

Where to Look:

  • Real estate agents: Local real estate agents can help you find accessible homes for sale. If there are no accessible homes for sale, the real estate agent might be able to help you find a home you can remodel to make it accessible.
  • “For sale by owner”: Some owners choose to sell their homes without the help of a real estate agent. You can find these homes listed for sale in your local newspaper. They are also listed on community and “for sale by owner” websites. These sellers may just have a “for sale” sign in their front yard! To find local “for sale by owner” houses online, search the web using words like “for sale by owner” or “for sale by owner Iowa.”
  • Local disability organizations: Some experts suggest getting in touch with local disability organizations to find listings3. Local chapters of national organizations for people with disabilities may let you to reach out to their members. They may be selling an accessible home. Or they may know someone who is selling one. Ways to reach out include: bulletin boards, email listservs and online discussion boards.

What to Say:

Make a list of home features you want and need for your home. List both common and accessibility features:

  • Common features: the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the style of the home.
  • Accessibility features: accessible parking/garage areas, no-step entryways, widened doorways, lowered kitchen and bathroom sinks.

Your list should tell the homeowner or real estate agent what you consider “accessible” means for you. Their sense of accessible may not be the same as yours.

Get in touch with Iowa Compass to learn more.

Sources

1 Reasonable Modifications Under the Fair Housing Act.(2008, March 5) Retrieved from: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/reasonable_modifications_mar08.pdf
2 People with Disabilities: Section 504 Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/disabilities/sect504faq#anchor272118
3 Fleishman, Sandra. (2011, September 2). Handicap-accessible housing market is still a work in progress. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/handicap-accessible-housing-market-is-still-a-work-in-progress/2011/08/27/gIQAm85owJ_story.html

Disclaimer: This tip sheet is for information only. Iowa Compass makes regular updates to give current and accurate information. We cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information.

Developed by Iowa Compass. Last Update: April 19, 2017