Accessing Reasonable Accommodations in your Housing
Transcript: Often survivors need changes to their housing to make it safe and accessible. Reasonable accommodations should be easy to access and we want to make it as easy as possible. Here’s a guide we put together to help you request a change to your housing so that you can live in a space that meets your needs. If you need help accessing your rights, please reach out to us.
Note: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. If you have a legal matter, you should connect with your attorney to obtain advice regarding your situation and confirm how to proceed.
What is a reasonable accommodation? What is a disability?
Many survivors are living with disabilities and need reasonable accommodations. For some, these disabilities arose because of the dynamics and situations they survived.
A reasonable accommodation is a change or exception to rules, policy, or procedure that a person with disabilities can request in order to equally use and enjoy their home. The accommodation requested must be reasonable and connected to the person’s disability-related needs. Under the law, having a disability means that a person:
- has a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities;” or
- has a record of having an impairment; or
- is recognized as having an impairment.
Survivors with disabilities are:
People living with disabilities face higher rates of domestic and sexual violence. Despite its prevalence, violence against people with disabilities is often overlooked, with 70% to 85% of cases of gender-based violence cases going unreported. That rate jumps to 97% among those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
of people with a disability experience abuse
And survivors with disabilities face a lot of unique barriers to seeking help, including gaps in the availability of interpretation and communication devices, the danger of losing autonomy or custody of a child, and the danger of losing assistance from a caretaker.
Reasonable accommodations are an important tool for survivors for many reasons:
- Gender-based violence can cause a disability.
- People with disabilities face higher rates of gender-based violence, unique barriers to seeking help, and abuse tailored to their disability-related needs
All organizations that serve survivors serve survivors with disabilities. We want programming to be accessible to all survivors. To access your capacity to support survivors with disabilities in your programming, you can use one of these evaluation tools: Vera Institute of Justice or National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.
What are some examples of reasonable accommodations you could request?
Survivors of gender-based violence often need reasonable accommodations because the trauma that they have experienced affects their daily life activities, and they need a change in the rules in order to equally access their home. Some survivors may need:
An emotional support animal
Additional notice prior to a housing provider entering their unit
A transfer to an accessible unit
A support person to tender their rent on their behalf
Survivors may also need reasonable modifications. Reasonable modifications are structural changes to the property. Some common requests are:
An assigned parking space, for someone with mobility access needs
Adding a one-directional viewing device to see directly outside of the door
Adding a grab bar in the bathroom
Installing a visual fire alarm for someone who is Deaf
Example: “I am a person with disabilities, which were caused by an assault in my apartment after I moved in. When I was assaulted, I was physically injured in a way that affects my mobility, requires me to use a cane, and makes me unable to walk up and down stairs at the building. Additionally, being in my current unit has caused me intense physical and emotional reactions, nightmares, flashbacks, and stress.”
- Establishing a disability does not mean that you have to disclose a medical condition. Instead, survivors should focus on explaining that their impairment substantially limits one or more of their major life activities such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, or caring for themself. Survivors are also not required to disclose the details of the trauma they have experienced, and can decide how much information they want to share with their housing provider. In our example above, the survivor decided to share more detail about what happened to her because her disability status changed after she moved in.
- If a survivor has a disability that is readily apparent (i.e., easily seen or recognized by others), then they may need to provide less information about their disability-related need. Examples of apparent disabilities can include physical disabilities that require a wheelchair or, for the survivor in our example, use of a cane.
- If a survivor has a disability that is not readily apparent (i.e., a housing provider may not know that the survivor has this disability unless it is disclosed), a housing provider can ask for information to evaluate the person’s need for the accommodation. This often includes contact information or a letter from a medical provider. Examples of non-apparent disabilities can include having anxiety, depression, cystic fibrosis, or epilepsy. The second impairment mentioned in our example–that the survivor is experiencing physical and emotional reactions, often at night and in the unit–is likely a non-apparent disability.
Example: “Moving to an accessible unit would allow me to safely access my unit without causing me further injury or pain because I would no longer need to climb the stairs each day. Additionally, moving to a different space will eliminate the parts of my unit that remind me of the violence I have experienced.”
Housing providers may not understand why you need an accommodation, especially if the disability is non-apparent. Providing this explanation gives housing providers the information they need to understand and process your request.
Example: “I am requesting a reasonable accommodation that you allow me to move from my current unit to an accessible unit at the property.”
Survivors should explain why they need an accommodation, including identifying what rule or policy needs to be adjusted so that they can access their housing. It is helpful if survivors identify a proposed accommodation that would work for them and their disability.
Survivors do not always know all solutions that are available to a housing provider considering a reasonable accommodation. However, by identifying an accommodation that works for the survivor and their disability-related need, the provider has a starting point with at least one acceptable option.
Invite dialogue with the housing provider so that you understand all options that may be available.
Example: “Maintaining my housing is very important to me, and I am eager to resolve this quickly so that I can safely remain in my home. If there are any other additional accommodations available to meet the need I addressed, please let me know in writing.”
If the accommodation that you propose is an administrative/financial burden or a fundamental alteration to the housing program, housing providers are still required to engage in an interactive dialogue with you, to try and find an accommodation that meets your disability-related need.
Remember, the housing provider is not required to grant the exact accommodation requested–instead, the law focuses on meeting your disability-related need. There may be other accommodations that allow you to equally access your housing and, if so, you should communicate with the housing provider in trying to find an accommodation that will work.
Frequently Asked Questions About Accommodations
If a disability isn’t readily visible, your provider can ask for verification. You do not need to give them your full medical record. What works best is either a letter from a medical professional or service provider detailing the disability.
You don’t need to use the language “reasonable accommodation,” though you should make the request in a way that a reasonable person would understand it as a request for a change or adjustment to housing policies, practices, or services because of a disability. It’s usually helpful to make the request in writing, to prevent misunderstanding. You may want to talk with the housing provider first to ask about their preferences on how you submit the request. For example, the Chicago Housing Authority has used this form in the past to assist residents in requesting a reasonable accommodation.
The process involves communicating back and forth with your housing provider about your disability-related need, your requested accommodation, and alternate ways your need could be met.
A housing provider can deny a request if it was not made by (or on behalf of) you, if you don’t have a disability-related need for the request, or if the request would be an “undue financial and administrative burden” for the housing provider.
Whether a request causes an “undue burden” is decided case-by-case, based on factors such as cost, the housing provider’s resources, the benefits of the accommodation, and the availability of alternate ways to meet your needs.
Anyone–the person with a disability or by someone else (such as a family member or advocate) acting on their behalf–can make the request. Even if you are the person making the request on behalf of the survivor, it is important to recognize that the survivor is the person with authority about what accommodation will meet their disability-related need.
What happens if a request is denied?
You have a few options. We’d recommend going in this order, but the choice is up to you:
1). You can follow up with your housing provider and return to the interactive dialogue to try and find an alternative accommodation.
2). You can file a complaint with an administrative agency, which will be investigated. Where you file depends partially on where you live, and you may have more than one option available to you. Additionally, where you choose to file your complaint may depend on exemptions in the law (e.g., the Fair Housing Act exempts owner-occupied units of 4 or less, but the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance has the least exemptions and generally applies to everyone).
Chicago Commission on Human Relations
Area served: Housing within city of Chicago limits
Time to file a complaint: 365 days from the denial of the accommodation
Contact Information: You can file a complaint via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (312) 744-4474 or contacting their TTY number: (312) 744-1088.
Cook County Commission on Human Rights
Area served: Housing within Cook County (but generally not Chicago)
Time to file a complaint: 180 days from the denial of the accommodation
Contact Information: You can file a complaint by emailing email@example.com or calling (312) 603-1100.
Illinois Department on Human Rights
Area served: Housing in Illinois
Time to file a complaint: 1 year from the denial of the accommodation
Contact Information: You can learn more about filing a housing charge via IDHR’s website or by contacting their TTY number: (866) 740-3953.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Area served: Housing in the United States
Time to file a complaint: 1 year from the denial of the accommodation
Contact Information: You can file a complaint online at HUD’s website, by calling (800) 669-9777, or by reaching out to their TTY line: (800) 877-8339.
3). You can also choose to file a complaint in court. You can reach out for additional support or for an attorney to represent you.
- Contact these orgs that HUD funds through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program; or
- Contact our Housing Advocacy Department at The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, explore these resources:
- More information from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications
- HUD and DOJ joint statement on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act (2004)
- HUD Guidance on Animals as Reasonable Accommodations
- Illinois Department of Human Rights Guide to Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications
- HUD and DOJ joint statement on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act (2008)