The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) may be able to help with housing issues related to disability rights. We are not able to conduct a housing search or complete applications for you, but we can provide general information on how to find and apply for housing.
Federal Fair Housing Act
The Federal Fair Housing Act 42 U.S.C. §§ 3535 & 3601-3620 extends civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental or conditions of occupancy of a dwelling because of a person’s disability and must allow for reasonable modifications to the dwelling.
It is also unlawful to refuse to allow a person with a disability to make reasonable modifications at his/her expense to allow full use of the premises, unless the property owner can demonstrate that the accommodation would create an “undue hardship” for the owner. Tenants may be required to remove modifications and return the unit to the original condition upon moving. All new multi-family units, rental units and condominiums, in complexes of 4 or more units, available for first occupancy must be “adaptable.”
The Massachusetts Housing Bill of Rights
The Massachusetts Housing Bill of Rights M.G.L. c. 151B §4 covers almost all housing except for owner occupied two-family units. It is illegal for a landlord to ask about your disability, except to ask about qualifications for a special type of unit. Only medical opinions that address qualifications for a particular unit may be sought.
If there are 3 or more units, reasonable modifications must be made to rules or policies if these modifications are needed for a person with a disability to use or enjoy the premises, unless the property owner can demonstrate that the modification would create an “undue hardship” for the owner.
A person with a disability may make reasonable modifications to the premises at his/her own expense.
In federal publicly assisted housing, or housing with 10 or more units, the landlord is responsible for paying for reasonable modifications unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship.”
The law also requires that new construction of housing with 3 or more units ready for first occupancy be adaptable consistent with AAB regulations. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is the enforcement agency.
Reasonable modifications and accommodations
Almost all housing providers have to make reasonable modifications and reasonable accommodations to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling.
A “reasonable modification” refers to a structural change, such as the installation of a ramp or grab bars.
A “reasonable accommodation” refers to a change to a rule or policy, such as making an exception to a “no pets” policy to allow an assistance animal in a dwelling, or assigning a parking space close to the entrance to a resident with a mobility disability when parking is typically first-come first-serve.
Whether a modification or accommodation is considered “reasonable” will vary on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the particulars of the situation.
Additional Resources for Reasonable modifications and accommodations
Searching for Housing
MOD provides general information about subsidized housing, housing search, and emergency shelters. This information is not only for people with disabilities because these program operate similarly for all eligible people.
If you are seeking affordable housing, we recommend that you connect with organizations that specialize in housing such as the housing consumer education centers as they may have information on additional options. Housing Consumer Education Centers answer a wide range of questions about all types of housing problems. Tenants, landlords, prospective buyers, and homeowners can access this information.
There are both state and federal programs that subsidize housing for people who have low income. In most cases, recipients of housing subsidies pay 30% of their gross income towards rent and the government pays the remainder.
Housing subsidies can be project based or tenant based. A project based subsidy is one that is tied to an apartment or a whole housing development. A recipient moves in and has subsidized rent as long as they live there. Local housing authorities and privately managed subsidized developments are examples of project based subsidies. To apply for a project based subsidy you would submit an application to each local housing authority and privately managed development in which you are interested.
A tenant based subsidy or a “housing voucher” allows the recipient to have subsidized rent in the private market. The voucher belongs to the recipient which means that when the recipient moves, they can take the subsidy with them. There are two large centralized lists for the federal Section 8 voucher.
A state issued housing voucher, Alternative Housing Voucher Program, is available to people with disabilities who are eligible for elderly/disabled housing but are not elderly.
Additional Resources for Searching for Housing
When searching for housing you should be aware of how any physical or health conditions may impact you in using particular features in your home, with particular focus on the entrance and the bathroom.
The Accessible Housing Registry allows users to search for accessible features in market rate and subsidized housing including wheelchair accessible units, ground floor/elevator units, and units with roll-in showers.