Tenant Tip: Housing barriers for people living with disabilities

Editor’s note: This post was submitted by Jennifer Valente, a case manager with Solid Ground’s Homeless Prevention Programs. Thanks also to Jeanne Winner for her help with the article.

Man in wheelchairImagine, you have just lost your housing – not to any fault of your own, you’ve been an excellent tenant – but your apartment is being renovated. You are wheelchair bound, you have no family or friends to help you, and you’re out of resources. You need housing immediately. As a last resort, you call King County 2.1.1 and are directed to Solid Ground’s Housing Stabilization Services program. You ask for help.

Basic knowledge of social services would lead one to believe, to hope even, that between the many Fair Housing Laws and benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone in the above situation would have a number of options available to them – that they would not end up in this predicament.

Unfortunately the above scenario is far too common, and the case managers with Housing Stabilization Services at Solid Ground are often faced with trying to help clients secure housing against unfavorable odds. Specifically with regard to handicap-accessible apartments, it is not that suitable apartments do not exist – but there are too few to support the growing demand, and long waiting lists act as barriers for those in urgent need. Clients too often hear the words, “Sorry, but…” and grow frustrated and discouraged.

Indeed, an October 2011 press release describes testing that confirms discrimination does exist for people living with disabilities (as well as for African Americans) in far higher percentages than expected, and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is taking action by prosecuting six property owners. The release states that more than half of all properties recently tested showed evidence of illegal housing discrimination.

While the battle against discrimination is ongoing, Solid Ground is committed to being an ally to those in need. By acting as a resource hub to current and prospective tenants and providing direct case management to clients like the one above, Solid Ground serves as an advocate and friend to individuals and families who have nowhere else to turn and may otherwise end up in shelters or on the streets.

Having trouble renting with a service animal?

Many renters who have a disability and use a service or companion animal experience difficulties finding stable housing. This is true for some of the people who come to the Housing Stabilization Services program at Solid Ground. HSS supports families and individuals who are at imminent risk of housing loss so they can secure stable housing and prevent homelessness.

HSS case managers negotiate with prospective landlords on behalf of people who face housing barriers such as: economic, credit and background issues, or other risk factors preventing housing stabilization. People who have a disability and use a service animal may have been wrongfully denied housing many times and have a much harder time finding housing. While denying someone based on this status is discriminatory according to Federal and State laws, it is an all-too-common problem.

Individuals who use a service or companion animal are a protected class. Refusing to rent to them is discrimination and is illegal. Both Federal and State laws prohibit discrimination based on the use of a service animal. Discrimination in housing is detailed in the Fair Housing Act and Washington State Law.

When landlords deny housing to individuals with a disability, oftentimes their explanation has been that they have a “no pet policy.” According to the law, a service animal is considered to be a working animal, not a pet. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the person with a disability to any area where the public is allowed.

Moreover, housing providers must accommodate a person’s disability and her or his needs. A landlord or property manager cannot ask you for any details about what your disability is, nor seek proof of a service animal’s status. They may ask for a healthcare provider’s statement indicating that the tenant has a disability and will be assisted with a service animal. However, the type of disability doesn’t have to be disclosed.

You can find contact information for Fair Housing agencies through the City of Seattle’s website.

If you think that you have been discriminated against due to having a disability or based on other protected classes, please contact a Fair Housing agency in your community and ask how to file a formal complaint with them. Oftentimes Fair Housing agencies are able to provide detailed information about their complaint, investigation and fine processes before you file a complaint.

You can also access a recent Tenant Tip written by Solid Ground tenant counselors to find out more information on Fair Housing laws as well as resources to deal with discrimination. You may also access information about your rights as a renter by visiting Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website or by contacting our Tenant Services Hotline to speak with a tenant counselor about your specific situation. The tenant services hotline is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

(Editor’s note: This post was a collaborative project between Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Edlira Kuka and HSS Case Manager Pamela Calderon.)

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

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