CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter National Association of Residential Property Managers
I have a tenant who 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 alone now. 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.
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. A reasonable modification is a physical change to the property, such as the one your tenant has asked 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, and you are entitled to see that the work is done according to professional standards 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 that an escrow account be established to cover the cost of restoration.
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 a shower stall – – one that would not be objectionable to future tenants alleviating the cost of restoration. As with all things, be fair and keep the communication open.
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 175 registered members.
Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http:// hawaii.gov/ dcca/areas /ocp/ landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.