Landlord / Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I have a tenant that has lived in my property for several years. They have a long term lease that has another 8 months remaining. The tenant was recently in a car accident and is now in a wheel chair for the foreseeable future. He has asked that we come to some agreement to change the bathroom tub into a shower stall that he can access as he cannot get into the tub without assistance. I want to be cooperative and do the right thing but am wondering what I need to do and what the process is to accomplish this request.

A. The answer to this question lies within the Fair Housing Act ( 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619) which falls under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. What your tenant is asking for is considered by definition under the act as a reasonable modification. The act also addresses reasonable accommodations. Both reasonable modifications and reasonable accommodations serve the same purpose; they allow persons with either mental or physical disabilities to fully enjoy the premises. To paraphrase the act, it states that a person’s disability must substantially limit a major life activity; those things important in daily life, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning and speaking. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules or policies, for example relocating an assigned parking space or allowing an assistance animal in a building that does not allow animals. A reasonable modification is a physical change to the property, this is what your tenant has asked for you to allow.

Since the disability is apparent (the wheelchair), you may not ask for further documentation describing the need for the modification. You must allow the modification of the bathroom. The law states that the modification is at the tenant’s expense. You may ask for a detailed description of what is to be done; you are entitled to see that the work is done in a workmanlike standard by licensed contractors following city and county building and permit requirements. A Landlord may also require the premises to be restored to its original condition unless the modification does not interfere with the use and enjoyment of future occupants. As a Landlord you are also allowed to require an escrow account be established to cover the cost of restoration if restoration will be necessary.

I would suggest working as closely as possible with the tenant to oversee the work. Try to get something done that you would like to keep. You and the tenant can discuss the style and cost of having a shower stall that would not be objectionable to future tenants alleviating the burden of restoration. As with all things, be fair and keep the communication open.

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