Fair Housing - Making New Apartments Accessible to Persons with Disabilities


It is very hard to find decent, affordable housing. That's no secret. But now imagine that you are searching for housing, and literally cannot get through the door. For persons with disabilities, this is all too common. Many apartment complexes are not accessible to persons with disabilities. There may be problems with steps, narrow doors, or other things that would keep a wheelchair from getting into the building. Once inside, the same problems might keep someone in a wheelchair from getting into an apartment, or moving around inside it.

Congress passed a law to help tenants with disabilities. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 made a lot of changes in fair housing law. One of the changes dealt with making apartments accessible. It can cost a lot of money to make changes to existing apartments. Congress decided to let landlords keep renting out existing apartments. They do not have to change them so that tenants in wheelchairs can rent the units. The tenant can make changes needed, such as widening doors or putting in a ramp. However, the tenant has to pay for these changes. For new apartment buildings, though, the rules are different. It does not take nearly so much money to build the apartment to be accessible as it does to try to make it accessible after it's built. Congress decided that most new apartment buildings had to be built to be accessible. Congress made the new construction part of the law go into effect later. This was to give everyone time to make the needed changes in building plans. The new construction part of the law didn't go into effect until 1991.

When does an apartment have to meet the fair housing accessibility requirements?
Three things are needed before the new construction law applies to a new apartment:

  1. The building was built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991.
  2. The building has four or more units.
  3. The unit is on the ground floor, or in a building with an elevator.

What are the requirements for a new apartment building?
If new housing meets the three requirements above, it must have seven things:

  1. a building entrance wide enough for a wheelchair, and a route without steps;
  2. accessible public and common-use areas;
  3. doors that allow passage by a person in a wheelchair;
  4. an accessible route into and through the dwelling unit;
  5. light switches, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations;
  6. reinforcements in bathroom walls for later installation of grab bars; and
  7. kitchens and bathrooms that allow a wheelchair to maneuver about the space.

Not all new apartments built since 1991 have all these things. If they don't, it may be possible to file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, or sue the people who built the complex. If you want to know more, call the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (1-800-457-4416), or Iowa Legal Aid (1-800-532-1275).

Last Review and Update: Mar 31, 2020