The most successful landlords and property managers understand the need to provide exemplary services and accommodate tenant circumstances to the best of their ability. With anaging Boomer population and senior housing on the rise, property managers must be well-versed in the various federal and state laws that govern housing for persons living with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into effect in 1990 and has extensive provisions that bar the discrimination of individuals with disabilities in public and private spaces including housing. ADA violations can lead to lawsuits, penalties, reputational damage and other costly consequences. Landlords hold primary responsibility for ADA compliance. That said, tenants could be liable for non-compliance if their lease grants them exclusive control to a common area in the complex.

Attentive landlords and property managers must recognize and act on their responsibilities towards tenants with disabilities. Nevertheless, as a tenant, it’s ultimately up to you to determine whether the apartment you are interested in is ADA compliant.

Who is a Person with a Disability?

An American with a disability is an individual who has a physical or mental condition that significantly impairs their ability to embark on major, everyday activities. Persons who have a disability, are treated by others as having a disability or have a history of disability are all protected by ADA laws on housing.

Some of the most common impairments include mobility challenges, visual challenges, hearing challenges, substance addiction, mental illness and retardation, and HIV/AIDS.

ADA Guidelines

ADA came into effect in 1990. Since there were millions of buildings that were already in use when the law was passed, ADA’s guidelines differ based on when the apartment complex was built. Apartments constructed pre-ADA are subject to a somewhat different set of guidelines to post-ADA complexes.

Pre-ADA Buildings Guidelines

Whereas, strictly speaking, ADA doesn’t address private apartments, the public access spaces of apartment complexes are subject to the act’s provisions on accessibility. Pre-ADA apartment complexes must eliminate barriers that inhibit the movement of persons with disability. Barrier removal may entail widening doorways for wheelchairs, adding access ramps and retrofitting restrooms.

That’s however as long as eliminating the barrier is readily achievable and technically feasible. Readily achievable implies that barrier removal can be accomplished within reasonable expense and minimal difficulty. This standard depends on the cost and complexity involved in the modification as well as the resources at the disposal of the landlord or property manager.

Post-ADA Buildings Guidelines

Apartment complexes that came up after ADA was enacted such as Victory Park Apartments, are subject to more stringent rules. They must comply with all provisions necessary for easing disabled access to public areas. For instance, the apartment complex must ensure the persons with disabilities can readily enter, exit and use any spaces built for general public access and use.

That means public restrooms, property manager offices, gyms and other areas used by complex residents and visitors alike. The rules do not however apply to the interior of apartments in private complexes.

Rules for Elevators and Ramps

Ordinarily, an apartment complex’s public exterior, interior, sidewalks, entryways, hallways and doors must be ADA compliant. Elevators, ramps and other potentially difficult installations for disabled access aren’t mandatory.

For instance, installing an elevator may prove too cumbersome and expensive for a ‘mom-and-pop’ landlord. It would therefore be financially and administratively unreasonable to expect them to do so. Such a modification would however be fairly easily achievable for a landlord overseeing a large apartment complex.

Nevertheless, as a tenant or buyer, this may be something you may want to give weight to before you sign the dotted line. Of course, easy wins such as disabled only parking slots are financially and technically achievable for the overwhelming majority of landlords and property managers.

Modifications and Accommodations

All apartment complexes are governed by ADA’s guidelines on accommodations and modifications.


Tenants with disabilities can make reasonable modifications to their apartment in order to improve accessibility. Such modifications may include adding railing to reduce the risk of falling in the shower. It may also entail installing a wheelchair ramp at the apartment complex’s entrance.


Tenants can request landlords and property managers change policies and rules to accommodate their disability. Rule and policy changes would include moving persons with disability to the top of the waiting list for easier-access units in the complex. It may entail a property manager allowing an epileptic to have a service dog in an otherwise no-pet complex.

When a tenant makes a reasonable accommodation request, the property manager can ask for a verification of the disability. They cannot however enquire about the severity or extent of the disability.

Who Bears the Costs?

Making an apartment ADA compliant inevitably comes at a financial cost. Any modifications to an apartment would be borne by the disabled tenant. And when the tenant leaves, they may also have to foot the cost of restoring the apartment to its pre-modification state. On the other hand, accommodations for ADA compliance would be at the landlord or property manager’s expense.

ADA should be a major factor in your decision to rent an apartment. By recognizing the risks of non-compliance and the convenience of an ADA-friendly complex, you can bolster your safety and improve yourquality of life. Remember, that just because you or anyone in your household does not have a disability doesn’t mean that ADA isn’t relevant for you. Your circumstances could abruptly change in future and you want to be certain that the place you live in will accommodate your new limitations when that time comes.