Massachusetts law about disability rights in housing

Laws, regulations, and web & print sources on disability rights in housing.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians or the Massachusetts Office on Disability for assistance.

Table of Contents

Best bet

Disability rights in housing, Massachusetts Office on Disability.
MOD provides one of the best and comprehensive resources for information relating to the rights of people with disabilities in housing.


Massachusetts laws

Main laws

Article CXIV of the Massachusetts Constitution
Added in 1980. "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity within the commonwealth."

MGL c. 93, § 103 Equal rights; age and handicap; violations; remedies
Mass. Equal Rights Act (MERA). Everyone in the commonwealth, regardless of age or handicap, has the right to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property.

MGL c. 151B Unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry or sex
State law also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

MGL c. 151B, § 1 Definitions
Definitions include the terms "handicap", "qualified handicapped person", and housing terminology for the purposes of c.151B.

MGL c. 151B, § 4 Unlawful practices
Prohibits discrimination against protected classes, including people with disabilities.

  • § 4(3B) Prohibits discrimination in mortgage lending
  • §§ 4(6) and (7) Prohibits housing discrimination (renting, buying & selling)
  • § 4(7A) Reasonable modifications to housing
  • § 4(10) Prohibits discrimination against those who receive government assistance

Additional laws

MGL c. 12, § 11I Violations of constitutional rights; civil actions by aggrieved persons; costs and fees
Individuals may bring a civil action against a person or persons who violate their constitutional rights.

MGL c. 40A, § 3 Subjects which zoning may not regulate; exemptions; public hearings; temporary manufactured home residences
City or town laws, practices, and decisions regarding land use, health, and safety cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.

MGL c. 59, § 5 Property; exemptions
State-level property tax exemptions are available for property owners who are legally blind and for veterans with different levels of disability. It's recommended to check with your city or town for any local exemption or abatement programs they may offer.

MGL c. 121B Housing and urban renewal

  • § 1 Definitions
    Defines ''Handicapped persons of low income'' and ''Elderly persons of low income" for the purposes of c.121B.
  • § 39 Power to provide housing for elderly and handicapped persons of low income; priorities in placement
  • § 40 Provisions applicable to housing for elderly and handicapped persons of low income

MGL c. 188, § 2 Homestead protection for elderly or disabled persons

See also: Law about service animals


Massachusetts regulations

220 CMR 25.00 Billing and termination procedures of the Department of Public Utilities
Includes procedures relating to the termination of service to elderly persons and customers experiencing serious illness.

521 CMR Architectural Access Board

  • 521 CMR 9.00 Multiple dwellings: Accessibility standards for multiple dwellings, which are buildings with three or more dwelling units that are used for lodging or residential purposes for hire, rent, lease, or sale.

760 CMR 5.00 Eligibility and selection criteria (State-aided housing)

  • 760 CMR 5.07 Eligibility of handicapped persons

804 CMR 2.00 Discrimination in housing (Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination)

See also: Massachusetts city and town ordinances and by-laws
Check local ordinances and by-laws for fair housing laws adopted by your city or town.


Federal laws

12 U.S.C. § 1701r-1 Pet ownership in assisted rental housing for the elderly or handicapped (Federal Pet Law)

29 U.S.C. § 794 Nondiscrimination under Federal grants and programs (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)
Protects individuals with disabilities from being excluded, denied benefits, or discriminated against by entities that receive federal funds. This includes organizations that provide housing.

42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12133 Prohibition against discrimination and other generally applicable provisions
Also applies to public housing authorities and state housing finance agencies.

42 U.S.C. § 12182 - Prohibition of discrimination by public accommodations
"Public accommodation", as defined in § 12181, includes homeless shelters, community residences, single-room occupancy dwellings, motels, hotels, and other places of lodging.

42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq. Federal Fair Housing Act
Prohibits housing discrimination based on disability, including mortgage lending and other types of real estate loans.

  • 42 U.S.C. § 3604 Discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices

Federal regulations

24 CFR §§ 5.300 et seq. Pet ownership for the elderly or persons with disabilities

24 CFR Parts 100 et seq. Federal Fair Housing Act

28 CFR Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services (Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act)
Also applies to public housing authorities and state housing finance agencies.

28 CFR Part 36 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities (Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act)
"Public accommodation", as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 12181, includes homeless shelters, community residences, single-room occupancy dwellings, motels, hotels, and other places of lodging.


Selected cases

Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., 596 U.S. 212 (2022)
Supreme Court held that emotional distress damages are not recoverable under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or the Affordable Care Act.

Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999)
Right to live integrated within communities. "Under Title II, the court concluded, unnecessary institutional segregation constitutes discrimination per se, which cannot be justified by a lack of funding."

Schmidt v. Boston Housing Authority, 505 F.Supp. 988 (1981)
Discriminatory intent does not need to be proven in cases of violations of the Fair Housing Act.

  • See also: Macone v. Town of Wakefield, 277 F.3d 1 (2002) "To prove a violation of the Fair Housing Act, appellants can show either discriminatory intent or disparate impact."

Agencies and filing complaints

Enforcement agencies

Agency File a complaint
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
One Ashburton Place, Suite 601
Boston, MA 02108
Main: (617) 994-6000
TTY: (617) 994-6196
File a complaint of discrimination
MCAD is the state agency that enforces and investigates violations of MGL 151B, including employment discrimination and other complaints falling under its jurisdiction.
Massachusetts Attorney General's Civil Rights Division
Main: (617) 963-2917 (Mass relay dial 7-1-1 and connect via main number)

File a civil rights complaint
The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division handles complaints regarding civil rights and civil liberties. They take enforcement action when needed and can also mediate disputes. Contact the Division for help with landlord/tenant disputes and consumer protection.

Boston Regional Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Federal Building
10 Causeway Street, Room 308
Boston, Massachusetts 02222
(617) 994-8300
(800) 827-5005
TTY: (800) 877-8339
Report housing discrimination
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is the federal agency tasked with enforcing and investigating violations of the Fair Housing Act.

 

Technical information and guidance

Massachusetts Office on Disability
One Ashburton Place, Room 1305
Boston, MA 02108
Main: (617) 727-7440
MOD provides information and technical guidance on disability rights. You can also use MOD's contact form to request guidance on your specific situation.


Hearing decisions - MCAD

Collections include hearing decisions on discrimination complaints brought before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).


Web sources

Accessibility requirements for buildings, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Assistance animals in housing, Mass. Office on Disability
This page will help people understand the rights and responsibilities associated with service animals and emotional support animals in different settings.

Disability, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Disability accommodations, Mass. Legal Help, 2023.
Accommodations in emergency shelters. Includes:

Elevator outages in housing, Massachusetts Office on Disability.
"This guidance aims to help housing providers and residents with disabilities navigate elevator outages."

Forms of housing discrimination: Discrimination based on disability, Mass. Legal Help, 2017.

A handbook on the legal obligations and rights of public and assisted housing providers under federal and state fair housing law for applicants and tenants with disabilities, Mass. Housing, July 2015.
This handbook explains the legal obligations of housing providers and the legal rights of applicants and tenants with disabilities.

Housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Explains the Fair Housing Act, who and what is protected, and what types of housing are covered.

Tenants' guide to eviction, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
"If the eviction was not your fault or you cannot in good faith find a place to live, you may be able to convince a judge to grant you a Stay of Execution, allowing you to stay in your apartment for up to six months. Elderly or disabled tenants can request a stay of up to one year."


Print sources

Beginner's guide to the Fair Housing Act by Amy M. Glassman, American Bar Association, Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, 2016.

Bringing and defending a fair housing case, MCLE, 2012.

Elder and disability law in Massachusetts, 1st ed., MCLE, 2023.

Legal rights of individuals with disabilities: Chapter 2: Housing rights, 3rd ed., MCLE New England, 2021.

Massachusetts discrimination law reporter: MDLR, Massachusetts Labor Relations Reporter.

Reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities in condos, housing & places of public accommodation [Sound recording], MCLE, 2017.

Reasonable accommodations in housing demystified, MCLE, 2018.

Residential and commercial landlord-tenant practice in Massachusetts: Chapter 4: Discrimination in housing: § 4.4.3 Disability, 4th ed., MCLE, 2022.


Contact   for Massachusetts law about disability rights in housing

Last updated: May 21, 2024

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