Disability Access in Public and Other Government-Assisted Housing

    1. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that was passed in 1990 and protects people with disabilities from discrimination. The goal of the ADA is to make sure you are treated the same as people without disabilities. The ADA contains five sections that relate to different aspects of public life such as employment, access to private businesses and telecommunications.

    2. What is Title II of the ADA?

    Title II of the ADA is the section that relates to public programs, services and activities that are provided by a public entity. Under Title II of the ADA, people with disabilities are protected from discrimination by public entities. Title II applies to such services as public transportation and public housing. See Fact sheets titled, “Accessible Public Transportation” and “Disability Discrimination by Public Entities.”

    3. What Kinds of Housing are Covered under Title II of the ADA?

    Title II applies to public housing authorities, as well as housing operated, funded, or assisted by state or local governments. This includes public housing, student and faculty housing at state universities, and employee housing provided by state and local governments.

    4. Can a Housing Provider Refuse to Sell or Rent Me Housing Because of My Disability?

    No. It is unlawful for a public housing provider to refuse to rent or sell a home to a person because of his/her disability or association with someone with a disability. It is also unlawful to refuse to rent or sell a home based on knowledge that an occupant of the home has a disability.

    5. Does Every Residential Dwelling Constructed by a Public Housing Provider Have to be Accessible?

    The ADA requires that all or part of a facility constructed by a public entity, after January 26, 1992, including public housing, must be accessible to people with disabilities.

    Similarly, a public facility that undergoes alterations after January 26, 1992 must ensure that the alterations it makes are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

    Further, most public housing buildings must ensure the following:
    • That at least 5% of its residential units provide accessible mobility features per the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and be located on an accessible route
    • That at least 2% of its residential units provide accessible communication features per the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

    6. What Types of Mobility Features are Required under Title II?

    The accessible mobility features required under Title II are extensive and are set out in their entirety in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These features include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • Accessible and safe means to enter and exit a building in the event of an emergency
    • Accessible circulation paths, including hallways, courtyards, elevators, platform lifts, and ramps, that are located in the same general area as the paths traveled by people without disabilities
    • Accessible routes between stories of buildings including multiple floors with residential units, common use areas, and public use areas, serving people with mobility disabilities
    • Parking spaces accessible to residents or visitors with mobility disabilities
    • Doors and doorways that are wide enough to accommodate the passage of wheelchair users, have low thresholds, and are unobstructed by rotating doors and turnstiles
    • Mailboxes within reach ranges of residents with mobility disabilities
    • In multi-story buildings, elevators sized appropriately to accommodate mobility devices with reachable number pads and call buttons
    • Adequate turning space for mobility devices within units
    • At least one accessible restroom within each mobility accessible unit that includes clear ground space to allow for wheelchair maneuverability, contains grab bars, and includes accessible sinks, storage, mirrors, and bath and/or shower compartments
    • Kitchen with clear ground space to allow for wheelchair maneuverability and accessible sinks, storage, appliances, and work surfaces
    • Where a residential facility includes a swimming pool, that the pool have at least two means of accessible entry

    7. What Types of Communication Features are Required under Title II?

    The accessible communication features required under Title II are extensive and are set out in their entirety in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These features include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • In buildings with elevators, that the elevators have call buttons with visible signals indicating when a call is registered or answered; visible and audible signals indicating which car is answering a call and its direction of travel; and that elevator buttons and signs have tactile symbols and/or braille messages
    • That smoke detection systems or other alarms within units offering communication access features have visible and audible alerts
    • Doorbells that, when activated, initiate both an audible tone and visual signal
    • Where communication systems, such as intercoms, are offered allowing for resident communication with visitors outside the building entrance, such systems should be capable of supporting voice and TTY communication

    8. The Accessible Units Offered by My Public Housing Provider are not as Nice or do not offer the Same Amenities as Similar Non-Accessible Units in My Building. Is this Legal?

    No. Public housing providers are required to offer people with disabilities housing that is equal to that afforded to residents without disabilities.

    9. I am Moving Into a Multi-Building Unit. Is the Housing Provider Required to Provide me an Accessible Unit in the Building of My Choice?

    Accessible units must be dispersed among various types of units, so that people with disabilities have similar choices to those of residents without disabilities, and so that accessible units are integrated with other units.

    However, there may be circumstances in which accessible units are already occupied or otherwise unavailable in a particular building. In such cases, a public housing provider may meet its reasonable accommodation requirements by offering an alternate unit in a different building, as long as that unit is comparable in quality, amenities, and other features to those units available to non-disabled residents.

    10. I Require a Live-In Aide Due to My Disability, but My Apartment Has a “No-Guest” Rule or Requires a Fee for Guests Who Reside in My Apartment for over a Certain Number of Days. Is this Legal?

    Probably not. Having a live-in aide or home health care provider can be a type of reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodations to a housing provider’s policies, practices, or procedures may be legally required when such a change is necessary to permit a person with a disability to have meaningful access to the housing offered by that provider. As such, a public housing provider may be required to adjust or make an exception to their no-guest policy in order to allow you the reasonable accommodation of a live-in aide.

    Similarly, a public housing entity cannot charge you a premium because you need a particular accommodation. Thus, your housing provider may also be required to waive a guest fee if necessary to accommodate your aide.

    11. I Rely on an Elevator in My Building to Access My Housing Unit. It is Frequently Out of Service. Is this Legal?

    No. Elevators need to be routinely maintained and in working order. There may be isolated or temporary interruptions in elevator service but housing providers must take prompt actions to repair and restore the elevator.

    Similarly, elevators should not be routinely blocked or turned off. For instance, a public housing provider should not store equipment in an elevator, preventing its use by people with disabilities, nor should it regularly turn the elevator off to conserve energy or for other purposes.

    12. My Landlord Told Me that My Service Animal is Not Allowed in my Rental Unit. Is this Legal?

    No. If you have a service animal because of your disability, you have the right to bring your service animal into locations covered by the ADA, including public and other government-assisted housing.

    Service animals are typically dogs, and are specifically trained to perform tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, or alerting a Deaf person to a noise or a person with epilepsy to an oncoming seizure.

    Although only tasked-train service dogs (and in some cases, miniature horses) are recognized as “service animals” under the ADA, your housing provider may be required by other laws to provide you a reasonable accommodation by permitting your “emotional support animal” in your housing unit. “Emotional support animals” are not necessarily trained to perform certain tasks, but their presence provides emotional support that alleviates the symptoms or effects of a disability.

    Typically, both emotional support animals and service animals must be permitted in housing, even housing that typically disallows pets, unless they threaten the safety or property of others. Further, landlords may not charge additional rent, a pet fee or pet deposit, or other additional fees in connection with your service or emotional support animal.

    13. My Public Housing Authority Has Residency or Portability Restrictions that Delays or Prevents My Ability to Relocate. Do I Have Any Rights?

    Public housing authorities are also subject to the requirements of Title II. Therefore, your public housing authority may be required to grant an exception or adjustment to its policy regarding where, when, and how you can use your Section 8 voucher, if you can demonstrate that such an exception is reasonable and would accommodate your disability.

    14. What other laws may apply to disability access in housing?

    Other state and federal laws apply to non-public housing, including the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Note that the above laws may also apply to housing facilities (such as public and other government-assisted housing) that are protected under Title II.

    The protections under these laws may be similar, as they generally require that housing providers of a certain size provide reasonable accommodations to renters or owners/buyers with disabilities, both with regard to policies and structural barriers. For more information on these protections, visit https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp or https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Housing/.

    15. What do I do if a Housing Provider Discriminates Against Me Because of My Disability?

    There are multiple actions you can take if you believe that a housing provider is discriminating against you because of your disability:

    o If your Housing Authority or public housing entity has an ADA coordinator, file a complaint with that person.
    o File a complaint with HUD within one year of the discrimination. See https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint to file a complaint online.
    o You can also file a lawsuit directly in court.
    o Contact the Disability Rights Helpline of Legal Aid at Work at (877) 350-5441 for further information about your rights to accessible housing.

Disclaimer

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, Legal Aid at Work cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.