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Defining Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled

August 18, 1996|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: Over the years, several of my tenants who are disabled have asked if they could make alterations to their units. They call these alterations "reasonable accommodations" and agree to pay for them. What kind of accommodations should be considered reasonable?

ANSWER: Accommodations are deemed "reasonable" when they are practical and allow a person with a disability the opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. Examples of changes that would provide "reasonable accommodations" would be adding grab bars to the bathroom or a ramp to allow access to an apartment for someone with a mobility impairment.

You should allow those with disabilities to make modifications, at their own expense, if the modifications are necessary for the full use and enjoyment of the premises. However, at the end of their tenancy, these tenants are expected to return the rental unit in the same condition it was before their tenancy or pay the costs involved in restoring the unit to its original condition.

Often, landlords may want the modifications to remain because they can increase the rental value of the unit. For example, grab bars in bathrooms are considered useful by many people and most likely would not need to be removed at the end of the tenancy.

Put Holding-Deposit Terms in Writing

Q: I have a vacancy in my apartment complex that I advertised in a local paper. A young man looked at the unit and said he might be interested, so I asked for a $200 holding deposit. After a few days, he changed his mind and asked for his deposit back. I said nothing doing, but he was upset and muttered about Small Claims Court. Can I retain the holding deposit?

A: Unfortunately, the proper use of the holding deposit is not clear. Basically, the owner can retain an amount that bears a "reasonable" relation to his or her costs of holding the apartment open for a prospective tenant, for additional advertising and for pro-rated rent during the time the property was held vacant. A property owner who keeps more than these costs is said to impose an unlawful penalty.

If you require a holding deposit, be sure that you and the prospective tenant have a clear understanding of how this deposit will be used. The best way is to have the agreement in writing, preferably on a holding deposit receipt that includes the amount of the deposit, dates you will hold the property vacant, the specific unit that is being held, the cost and terms of the proposed rental agreement or lease and conditions for returning or retaining the deposit.

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 582-B Dunholme Way, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 but cannot be answered individually.

For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council in your area:

Westside Los Angeles, (310) 477-9260.

San Fernando Valley, (818) 373-1185.

Pasadena, (818) 791-0211.

El Monte, (818) 579-6868.

Orange County, (714) 569-0828.

San Bernardino County, (909) 884-8056.

San Diego County, (619) 699-5888.

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