Many older people are unable to manage their daily activities as well as they once
did. Others have disabilities that have worsened with age. Two major federal laws, the
Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, protect people
with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination in virtually every aspect of their
lives. In addition, these laws require employers and the providers of services to modify
their rules and policies, and physical environment, to meet the needs of persons with
Q. Who is protected by these laws?
A. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing
Amendments Act (FHAA), protect people with mental or physical impairments that limit
their ability to perform one or more major life activities. These activities include walking,
seeing, hearing, taking care of personal or health needs or doing everyday chores. The
laws also protect people who are perceived to have a disability, or whose family members
or friends are disabled.
Neither law protects people who threaten the safety or health of others, or whose
behavior would result in substantial damage to the property of others. Nor do the laws
protect current users of illegal drugs.
Q. What situations does the Americans with Disabilities Act cover?
A. The ADA protects people with disabilities against discrimination in
employment, public transit and public accommodations (such as hotels, restaurants, banks,
schools and senior centers). It generally does not cover housing (but the FHAA does, see
below) although it does cover some non-housing activities that are based in a housing
facility, such as meal or activity programs to which the public is invited.
Q. What situations are covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act?
A. The FHAA applies to almost all housing transactions. Most importantly for the
purposes of this chapter, the law prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to older people,
or asking them to move, simply because they need assistance with certain activities.
The law does not apply to rental buildings that contain fewer than four units, and where the
owner also lives in the building. Examples of prohibited discrimination include:
· refusing to rent to a family whose member has a mental illness;
· requiring applicants for senior housing to provide a doctor’s letter stating that they are
in good health and can live on their own;
· denying a resident who uses a wheelchair or a walker access to a communal dining
· evicting a tenant because he or she is receiving homemaking help or other services.
Q. What does “reasonable accommodation” mean
A. Reasonable accommodations are changes in rules or procedures that are
reasonable under the circumstances, and give a disabled person equal opportunity to
participate in a specific activity, program, job or housing situation. They are very
individualized, and can often be worked out informally by the people involved. Examples
include: providing large-print notices, leases or other written materials;
· giving a job or housing applicant more time to fill out an application;
· waiving a no-pets rule for a tenant with a mental disability who is emotionally
dependent on his or her pet, or waiving a no-guest rule for a tenant who needs a live-in
· assisting a customer who needs help with packages, or with opening and closing doors,
or even with dialing a telephone.
Q. What are reasonable modifications?
A. Reasonable modifications are changes to the physical structure of a building or
property, which are reasonable under the circumstances, and which give a person with
disabilities equal access to the premises. Examples include:
· widening doorways and installing ramps;
· replacing doorknobs with lever handles;
· installing grab bars in bathrooms.
Q. Who pays for these alterations?
A. In an apartment or other housing program, the landlord pays for alterations to
the common areas, such as hallways, entrances, and meeting rooms. The tenant is
responsible for the costs of modifications inside the apartment. Alterations to public
facilities, hotels, and other programs covered by the ADA are paid for by the owner of the
Q. How do I go about getting some changes made in my apartment?
A. Although many housing providers are familiar with the FHAA, and are working
to make sure that their buildings are accessible, they may not be aware of accommodations
that would make life easier for individual tenants. All you need to do is request the
changes; if they are reasonable, they should be honored. Remember that you are
responsible for the costs of physical alterations inside your own apartment. Also, you may
be required to return the premises to their original condition when you move.
Q. What do I do if I believe I am being discriminated against?
A. These laws can be enforced through court action or by filing a complaint with
an administrative agency.
If the discrimination involves housing, call the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development’s Fair Housing Complaint Hotline at 1-800-669-9777.
If the discrimination involves employment, public accommodations,
telecommunications or public transit, contact the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on the
Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Division, at 1-800 514-0301 (voice), or 1-
800 514-0383 (TDD).