NO LEG TO STAND ON? LANDLORD AND TENANT CLASH OVER WALK-IN SHOWER REQUEST
QUESTION: After an accident, and surgery, I am unable to stand on my left leg. I will probably be disabled for life. While I am able to get around my apartment with a walker or wheelchair, I cannot get into the bathtub for a bath or shower without support from my husband. When he is not available, I am out of luck. I have asked my landlord to put in a walk-in shower in place of the bathtub/shower that currently exists. He refuses to do so. Don’t I have rights to an accessible apartment?
ANSWER: Under federal law, all multiple family dwellings constructed after April 1991 must be handicap accessible: Those in wheelchairs must be able to get into and out of the building; doors must be wide enough to allow those in wheel chairs to get through, light switches outlets, thermostats must be accessible to a handicapped person, and bathroom walls must be reinforced to allow installation of grab bars, if necessary. In addition, both Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act require landlords to permit “reasonable modifications of existing premises” if the modification is necessary to allow a handicapped person “full enjoyment of the premises.” MCL 37.1507; 42 U.S.C. 3406(f)(3)(A).
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that interior modifications under the FHA, even when reasonable and necessary, must be made at the expense of the handicapped tenant. Worse, the landlord may condition permission for the modification on the tenant agreeing to “restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification.”
The modification must also be a “reasonable accommodation” – if a different, less drastic modification might enable you to safely use the bath/shower without assistance, the landlord could ask you to consider making a lesser change. Various grab bars, and transfer seats might enable you to use the tub or shower without a wholesale remodel. Tearing out a bath tub and replacing it with a walk-in shower can cost from $1,200 to $8,000 (more if you want special tiles, etc.). If your landlord insisted you return the apartment to its original condition, and tear out the shower and put the bath tub back in, the cost could be prohibitive.
But, if you are willing to pay for a reasonable modification that will allow you to “fully enjoy” your apartment, your landlord is in violation of the law if he refuses to consider it. If you think your rights under the FHA have been violated, you may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or consider contacting an attorney to file a civil lawsuit.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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