Landlord Tenant Q&A with CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R)
Q. I have a rental property and the tenants want me to take out the bathtub and put in a shower stall with grab bars. They told me that the husband was in a car accident and now cannot step into the tub safely and they expect this to be a permanent disability. Honestly, I feel really badly for him but I like having a bathtub. We may eventually move back into the home and my grandchildren like to play in the tub. Do I have to comply with this tenant’s request?
A. Based on your description of the situation, my answer would be yes. You do have to allow this; however, you do not have to pay for it.
That expense would be borne by the tenant and you have the right to be sure the work is done by professional licensed contractors. You also can often require an escrow account be established to return the property to its original condition upon vacancy. A more in depth answer to this question lies within the Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601-3619) which falls under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the act, what your tenant is asking for is considered a reasonable modification, which is a change to the physical property.
The act also addresses reasonable accommodations, which would be a change in rules or policies. An example of a reasonable accommodation may be a switch in a parking stall to allow access by a wheelchair or allowing for a service animal in a property that has rules prohibiting animals.
Both reasonable modifications and reasonable accommodations serve the same purpose; they allow persons with mental or physical disabilities to fully enjoy the premises. To summarize 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 (which is where the bathtub and bathing comes in), learning and speaking.
This type of problem is guided by very strict Federal regulation. We have a great and extremely helpful local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) here on Oahu. You can use your favorite search engine to look them up or check the phone book. They are always available to help should you have any questions about the right thing to do when faced with this kind of tenant request. There are huge fines for not complying with this law and denying a legitimate request from a person who qualifies for a reasonable accommodation or modification, so asking questions up front if in doubt is a great approach! Both professional property managers and individuals are held to the same accountability under these laws.