Everything to Know About Accessible Apartment Hunting

Finding accessible apartments can be a challenging task for people with disabilities. Depending on your disability, you will have specific criteria when searching for a home.

For instance, a blind person has different needs than a wheelchair user. Therefore, the clearer you are about your particular needs for an apartment, the more you can narrow your search. You may have the option of modifying an apartment to suit your needs. By knowing what you want before you start searching, you will not waste time looking at irrelevant listings and visiting unsuitable apartment buildings.

In addition, you need to know your rights as well. Federal law protects apartment hunters who have disabilities. As such, the more familiar you are with the rules, the better positioned you will be. Read on to find out everything you need to know about accessible apartment hunting and decide on the right course of action for you.

Assess the Costs

Cost is always one of the major deciding factors when looking for a new home. The cost plays an even bigger role when you have a disability, as good accessible apartments can be more expensive. Even if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits, it is usually not enough to cover the full cost of rent. Thankfully, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) housing assistance programs – namely Section 8 and Section 811 – can help you to pay for the cost.

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Unfortunately, the most affordable apartment buildings tend to be the least accessible. If you need to widen doorways, add ramps and make other improvements, it can be an expensive investment. You need to think about the long-term effects as well. If you make modifications, do they need to be disassembled when you move out of the apartment? If so, you need to know whether you have to pay for that cost yourself. Often, the answer will unfortunately be “yes.” Even though already-modified apartments are usually pricier than non-modified apartments, a ready-accessible home could end up costing you less in the long run.

Know Your Rights

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to residential housing, it does apply to public spaces in an apartment building. Therefore, the leasing officer of a building must follow ADA rules for reception areas, clubrooms, corridors and so on. What does apply to residential housing is the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  People with disabilities fall under a list of seven protected classes, which also include race, religion and sex. As such, a landlord cannot refuse to lease an apartment to you based on your disability. The law also prohibits landlords from giving you different terms than other tenants, as that would be unfair and discriminatory.

Furthermore, property owners must grant requests to make reasonable modifications for better accessibility. This may include installing grab bars in a bathroom and widening doorways. However, the act does not require landlords or property managers to pay for the modifications. For example, you are allowed to access common areas in a motorized wheelchair even if the building’s rules have an electric vehicle ban. This also pertains to buildings with pet restrictions; the FHA allows you could keep a guide dog in your apartment. Knowing your rights as a tenant and your landlord’s responsibilities will protect you against discrimination.

Newer Complexes Could Be Best

Any apartment building in the U.S. that was built after March 31, 1991 and fits four or more families is required to meet specific accessibility requirements. This law was introduced under the Fair Housing Amendments Act to improve housing options for people with disabilities and offer a more balanced market. These new complexes are required to have:

  • Doors wide enough to allow wheelchair users to have passage.
  • Accessible routes into apartments.
  • Accessible routes around apartments.
  • Accessible and usable bathrooms and kitchens.

In addition, many jurisdictions have new apartments with more accessible features, such as ground-level entry, low cabinets and walk-in showers.

Make Your Search Easier

Finding the right accessible apartment can be a tricky task. One way you can make the process easier is by limiting your search to accessible` apartments only. Most online housing search sites allow you to narrow your results. Generally, you select the “Disability Access” feature to do this. You may have to first do an “Advanced Search” in order to locate that feature.

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There are also several websites designed specifically to help people search for accessible apartments. To find out if this kind of site exists for your area, use a search engine and type in the name of your town, city or county, followed by the words “accessible apartments.”

Ask Questions

When you begin apartment hunting, you need to ask the right questions to ensure the home will meet your needs. As such, prepare a list before the property visit. This will serve as a checklist and help you remember to address all concerns. In addition, the answers will put you in a better position to decide if the apartment is right for you. Questions you should ask include:

  • Can I reach switches?
  • Do the doors have knobs or handles?
  • Are the doors at least 32 inches wide?
  • Are there ramps? If so, are they where I need them to be?
  • Is the bathtub or shower big enough?
  • Are there grab bars in the bathtub or shower?
  • How wide are the hallways in the apartment?
  • How wide are the hallways in the public areas?
  • How low are the counters?
  • Is the flooring easy to walk or roll across?

You need to ask yourself questions about the location of the apartment as well. The surrounding area should be just as accessible as your home, to ensure you are comfortable and happy in your new neighborhood. Questions you may need to ask yourself include:

  • Can I easily access the local stores and services?
  • Are the sidewalks congested?
  • Are there ramps on the sidewalks?
  • Do I have to go far to reach public transport?
  • Do crosswalks have the appropriate crossing sounds and lights to enable safe crossing?
  • Do grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants deliver to the apartment building?

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