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by Janet Portman, Inman NewsWheelchairQ: One of my tenants has a broken leg and is using a wheelchair.

He wants to install a ramp to his apartment (there’s a set of steps to the front door). I have a vacant unit that has no steps, which would solve the problem.
Can I insist that he move to the other unit, which is identical except in this one respect?
Can I require that he remove the ramp when he leaves?
And, he’ll be out of that wheelchair in a matter of a couple of months — is he even disabled? –Tom S.A: Your last question is where we should start: Does a temporary condition qualify as a disability?

This question has been answered in the employment context, at least. According to the technical assistance manual prepared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the rules for employers and landlords are often identical), you’d have to look “at the extent, duration and impact of the impairment.



Temporary, non-chronic impairments that do not last for a long time and that have little or no long-term impact usually are not disabilities.For example: Broken limbs, sprains, concussions, appendicitis, common colds or influenza generally would not be disabilities. A broken leg that heals normally within a few months, for example, would not be a disability. However, if a broken leg took significantly longer than the normal healing period to heal, and during this period the individual could not walk, he or she would be considered to have a disability.

Or if the leg did not heal properly and resulted in a permanent impairment that significantly restricted walking or other major life activities, he or she would be considered to have a disability. (See: The Americans With Disabilities Act Title I Technical Assistance Manual, Section 2.2(a)(iii).)

Let’s apply that rule to you and your tenant. You’ve said that he’ll be out of his wheelchair within a few months, implying that he is healing normally. If that’s so, his broken leg does not meet the definition of a disability, and you are not required to allow him to install that ramp, nor are you required to offer another rental. But if his healing takes longer, he may have a disability. If that happens, read on.

A tenant who uses a wheelchair and asks to install a ramp to the front door has made a reasonable request, which you may not refuse unless it poses an undue burden on your business or property. For example, it’s easy to install a ramp when you’re dealing with two steps in a wide walkway; but if the “set of steps” consisted of several steep flights, a ramp probably would not be a reasonable solution.

Nor can you insist instead that he move to an accessible unit. As to removing the ramp when he leaves, under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers may require tenants to restore modifications at the end of their tenancy only when they’ve been made to the interior of the dwelling.

(And even then, it’s unreasonable to demand restoration when the modification would not lower the value of the rental or pose a problem for succeeding tenants.) Reasonable modifications like ramps to the front door or modifications made to laundry rooms or building entrances need not be restored.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected]. Copyright 2009 Janet Portman



See Janet Portman’s feature,  How to Negotiate a Lease Buyout.
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