GOING DOWNHILL: TENANT’S RAMP REQUEST HITS LANDLORD ROADBLOCK
QUESTION: My wife and I have been living in an apartment community for the past six years. Two years ago she broke her hip, and, despite surgery, she must now use a wheelchair or a walker. While there is a main entrance to the building that is wheel-chair accessible, it is not close to the entrance to our apartment. We have asked the landlord if we could install a ramp from our front door to the sidewalk, at our expense. He claims the ramp would “intrude” on the sidewalk and create a hazard. We do not believe the ramp would do anything more than touch the sidewalk – and, honestly, it would be against our interests if it did more than that because my wife needs to be able to use her wheelchair on the sidewalk. What are our rights here?
ANSWER: Under the federal Fair Housing Act and Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, a refusal to permit “reasonable modifications of existing premises” to enable a person living with disabilities to have “full enjoyment of the premises,” is a form of discrimination and is illegal. However, even where a modification is necessary, a tenant with disabilities will be required to foot the bill and restore the unit to its original condition before moving out. MCL 37.1507; 42 U.S.C. 3406(f)(3)(A).
The crux of the matter is whether the modification is reasonable and necessary. According to federal case law, a person with a disability “is not entitled to an accommodation of his or her choice but only to a reasonable accommodation.” Stewart v Happy Herman’s Cheshire Bridge, Inc, 117 F3d 1278 (CA 11, 1278). Based on your description of the situation, the ramp does seem to be necessary to enable your wife to have direct access to your apartment, which would be important in the case of an emergency. But the question of how reasonable the modification is depends on such factors as how far away the existing wheelchair-accessible entrance is, whether your wife could use a smaller, portable ramp, whether a permanent ramp would constitute a structural change to the building or impose a “fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or undue financial and administrative burdens,” and whether the “intrusion” into the sidewalk, if any, would pose a hazard to other tenants. If it does pose a risk, perhaps the ramp could be modified, or you could discuss with your landlord ways the hazard could be eliminated.
That said, your landlord’s refusal to discuss the matter may not only be unreasonable, it may also be a violation of the law. An out-and-out failure to even consider a modification request (or worse, taking action against a tenant for having requested a modification) is a separate violation of the law. If you think your rights under the FHA have been violated, you may or consider contacting an attorney who could file a civil lawsuit if necessary.
The lawyers at GWINN LEGAL PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinnlegal.com.
Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN LEGAL PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.
ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0311 facsimile