Disability and Your Property: Who Pays for Upgrades? - PropertyBlawg

Disability and Your Property: Who Pays for Upgrades?

by Ladyblogger on September 27, 2013

(US Property Law) Victims who suffer an injury may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, disability benefits, or compensation arising from a civil claim against the party at fault for the injury. In the interim, victims may find it difficult to move around their home. Widening doorways, modifying the restroom for improved access, and adding ramps will ease the burden, but paying for such upgrades may be impossible without an income stream. In most cases, the property owner must pay for these upgrades.

When Must the Property Owner Pay for Upgrades for His or Her Tenants?

The Fair Housing Act, formally 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619, makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons when making housing decisions. “Discrimination” as used in that statute includes failing to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities if such reasonable accommodations are necessary for the disabled person to have an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling. However, there are some limitations to the Act and many legal gray areas. Meeting with a long term disability lawyer is essential to ensure you know what to expect.

Only reasonable modifications to the structure are covered; if the requested modification has no nexus with the disability or if the accommodation would present an undue financial burden on the property owner, a homeowner may lawfully refuse to make the modification. The statute does not apply to every homeowner. Owner-occupied units with four or fewer dwelling units are not required to be modified under the Act and homeowners who sell their homes may not be required to provide such accommodations, with certain exceptions.

When providing reasonable accommodations, the homeowner must bear the costs of those accommodations. He or she may take out loans if necessary or pay for the modifications directly. If the cost of the modifications would require the homeowner to take out a loan to cover the cost of the modifications, it may be considered an undue hardship and disabled tenants may be precluded from forcing the property owner to pay for such upgrades.

When Must Tenants or Others Pay for Upgrades?

As mentioned previously, tenants must pay for modifications when there is no nexus between the accommodation and the disability or when the upgrades would constitute an undue hardship on the property owner. Tenants must also bear the burden of an accommodation when the requested modification would constitute a fundamental alteration of the property owner’s services; for example, a tenant may not require a property owner to drive him or her to his or her medical appointment. In such situations, the tenants must arrange to have upgrades made or installed if they want them.

Mediation and reasonable discussions can resolve many of these issues. If it would be an undue burden on both parties if each were forced to pay for the entirety of the upgrades, the parties may come to an arrangement where the tenant will pay for a portion of the upgrades and the property owner will pay for the remainder. Alternatively, the parties may agree to complete certain upgrades and forego others.

What Types of Assistance are Available for Disability-Related Upgrades?

If the injured victim owns his or her property or if he or she rents from someone who cannot make the required upgrades, he or she must pay for the upgrades. Paying for major structural repairs, like widening doorways, may be beyond the average homeowner’s budget. Disabled persons may take advantage of Title I property improvement loans and Section 203(k) rehabilitation loans; under these programs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development insures lenders against any losses on such loans. This makes the loans more affordable for applicants.

Housing assistance and allowances may also be available from the state and county in which the disabled person resides. Depending upon the area, these programs may consist of loan insurance, benefit payments, or compensation for specific upgrades. In most cases, homeowners will be required to pay for the upgrades. Failing to do so may constitute a violation of federal law.

Passionate about issues dealing with disabilities, writer Kari Lloyd has contributed extensively on the subject on websites worldwide. Those affected by housing and disability issues would be best served getting advice from a long term disability lawyer on the subject to ensure they know what laws apply to them. 

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