Housing accessibility conundrum: What do these questions have in common?

Northeast ADA Center Staff May 20, 2020

“I would like to know how to file an ADA complaint against my landlord. He told me I cannot have a reserved parking space near my apartment that I need because of my disability.”

“My condo is fairly new but does not have grab bars in the bathroom. I’m sure this is an ADA violation, but what can I do about it?”

“I live in a No Pets Allowed apartment complex, but the ADA requires me to be allowed to have my emotional support animal, right?”

The common thread in the scenarios above, assuming these questions are from residents of private housing that does not involve state/local government funding, is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply in these scenarios. Technical Assistance specialists for the ADA National Network are accustomed to receiving questions like these, almost on a daily basis.

These three technical assistance inquiries absolutely speak to obligations on property managers/owners to accommodate residents with disabilities, but these obligations fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), not the ADA. Since this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the FHA, let’s look at where and when the ADA and FHA apply to better understand these federal civil rights laws.


The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. The ADA primarily deals with accessibility of public facilities, such as restaurants, hotels, and parks. With respect to housing accessibility, Title II of the ADA covers housing provided by public entities (state and local governments), such as housing on a state university campus. Title III of the ADA requires that public (and often common use) areas at housing developments are accessible, such as a leasing office that is open to the public. Given the areas where the ADA applies, the three inquires above would not fall under the ADA.


The FHA applies to the inquiries above because the FHA requires, among other things, that owners of housing facilities make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a resident with a mobility disability may request an accommodation that permits them to park in a reserved space closer to their unit. Additionally, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence, or they may need to allow a tenant to have an emotional support animal if needed due to disability.

The FHA also requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces. (The landlord is not required to pay for the changes.)

The act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to maneuver, and other adaptable features within the units.

Additionally, although grab bars are not required to be installed in condo (dwelling unit) bathrooms covered by the FHA, the FHA does require that blocking be in place in the walls to support grab bars, should a resident need to install them.

FHA Resources and Complaint Information

Complaints about Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

You can also contact your local Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) agency. These are fair housing organizations and other non-profits that receive funding through HUD to assist people who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination. FHIP organizations partner with HUD to help people identify government agencies that handle complaints of housing discrimination. They also conduct preliminary investigation of claims, including sending “testers” to properties suspected of practicing housing discrimination. For questions about the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act, contact Fair Housing FIRST at 888-341-7781 (voice/TTY).