Access Ramps: Who Must Pay for Them Under the Fair Housing Act

HNWReal Estate, Landlord/Tenant, and Zoning

  • Fair Housing ActThe construction of a ramp to access a building is a modification under the Fair Housing Act and therefore will be paid for by the tenant. However, curb cuts are likely to be considered an accommodation under the Fair Housing Act and therefore must be paid for by the landlord.

The Meaning of Modifications and Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against the handicapped by either “refus[ing] to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises” or “refus[ing] to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604. Accommodations and modifications have separate meanings under the Fair Housing Act. See 24 C.F.R. § 100.203; 24 C.F.R. § 100.204. This is important because accommodations must be paid for by the landlord, while modifications are paid for by the handicapped tenant themselves.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice explain the difference between accommodations and modifications under the Fair Housing Act. It states that “a reasonable modification is a structural change made to the premises whereas a reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service.” Id.

The difference between these two terms is further demonstrated in the Code of Federal Regulations. The C.F.R. defines modification as “any change to the public or common use areas of a building or any change to a dwelling unit.” The examples of modifications offered are the installation of grab bars in the bathrooms, and the widening of doorways to allow a wheelchair to pass through. In contrast, the examples of accommodations include adjustments to a “no pet” policy to allow a Seeing Eye dog, and the reservation of a handicap parking spot for a tenant with impaired mobility. Notably, the examples of modifications involve physical changes to the building while the examples of accommodations involve a bend in the community’s rules or services.

Therefore, a landlord must bear the costs related to an adjustment in the community’s rules and services, while tenants must bear the costs of structural changes to the building.

The Installation of a Ramp Facilitating Access to the Building is a Modification Under the FHA and is Therefore the Tenant’s Expense

The construction of a ramp on the landlord’s premises is a structural change and is therefore a modification that will be paid for by the tenant. Both the Joint Statement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, and the Fair Housing Coach use “installing a wheelchair ramp” as an example of a reasonable modification under the Fair Housing Act.

Because the construction of a ramp facilitating access to the building constitutes a structural change to the building, it is a modification under the Fair Housing Act and the tenant will be responsible for the cost of the ramp’s construction.

Buildings Constructed After March 13, 1991

A final consideration to determine who will bear the costs of structural changes is when the building was constructed.  The Fair Housing Act requires that all multi-family dwellings constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 meet certain accessibility standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(C)(i)-(iii). “If any of the structural changes needed by the tenant are ones that should have been included” under these requirements, “the housing provider may be responsible for providing and paying for those requested structural changes.”

If you are looking for additional details on this topic or if you require advice about your situation, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at  Please ask us about our video conferencing or telephone consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, NJ Landlord Tenant Attorney

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