Disability (Handicap)

Although the law specifically quotes “handicap,” we use the term disability whenever possible. Federal fair housing laws define disability as an impairment that “substantially” limits a major life activity. Disability issues in fair housing typically fall into five primary categories: reasonable accommodations, reasonable modifications, service animals (a type of reasonable accommodation), accessibility, lending, and zoning (most often related to group homes).

Disability based housing discrimination can take many forms including:

  • Not allowing a reasonable accommodation in a “no pets” policy for someone who needs an animal for their disability and who meets the definition of disability under law.
  • A lender mandating proof of long term disability benefits or asking for medical statements in order to approve a mortgage.
  • Only providing information on first floor units to someone who is blind out of fear they may hurt themselves on stairs.
  • A requirement for rental that an applicant must be “employed.”
  • Requiring that someone using a wheelchair pay an extra deposit or get additional insurance coverage due to concern that they may damage the unit.
  • A multi-family property built after March 13, 1991 that does not meet accessibility requirements.
  • Making verbal statements such as “I don’t rent to bipolars” or “disabled people belong in a nursing home.”
  • A requirement that a person with a disability must be able to live independently. 
  • Not allowing a person with a disability to make a reasonable modification – such as having ramp installed to get into their unit.
  • A public housing authority refusing to provide a deaf interpreter or a housing provider refusing to rent to a deaf person who uses a relay service to communicate.

FHCCI Resources:

General Disability Reports of Interest:

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications:

Service, Assistive, Therapeutic, Emotional Support and Companion Animals: 


Multi-family properties built for first occupancy as of March 13, 1991 have to be accessible to people with disabilities under fair housing laws. 


Making single family homes “visitable” by those with disabilities or mobility limits.

  • FHCCI Resources:
    • Fact Sheet 11 – Visitability: Ensuring Homes are Accessible for People with Disabilities
  • General Information:


Olmstead and Community Based Care Issues:

Using People First Language:

Zoning and Group Homes:

  • Zoning and Group Homes: Joint Statement of the DOJ and HUD on Group Homes, Local Land Use and the Fair Housing Act, August 18, 1999