When you have a disability, finding a suitable property to rent can be a challenge. Accessibility issues such as multiple steps, narrow doorways and awkwardly designed taps can make your shortlist of suitable places even shorter.
Indeed, research by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission reveals that 93% of the UK’s millions of rental properties are inaccessible to the disabled. The result of this shortage? 365,000 disabled people are living in homes unsuitable for their needs.
If tracking down a property to match your specific requirements, as well as ticking of location and price, is proving impossible, you have the right to ask a landlord to make reasonable adjustments.
Here we explore what these are and how to request them so you can live independently in your ideal property.
Where You Stand Legally
The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against within society and applies to both social and private landlords. They have a legal duty to respond to requests by disabled tenants to make changes to a property, known as ‘reasonable adjustments’.
The aim of these is to address any ‘substantial disadvantage’ you may experience compared to a tenant who doesn’t have a disability. They can apply to a practice or criterion, for example making changes to the terms of a tenancy agreement, or to the provision of ‘auxiliary aids’ in the form of extra equipment or support.
Reasonable adjustments could include:
providing a Braille copy of your tenancy agreement
replacing taps or door handles
replacing, providing or adapting your doorbell or door entry system
changing the colour of a wall, door or any other surface
Landlords are not however obliged to do anything that involves removing or altering a physical feature, including:
installing a permanent ramp
And be aware that this duty to make reasonable adjustments doesn’t apply in every situation. There are some exceptions, for example if the landlord also lives in the property.
What Constitutes a ‘Reasonable’ Request?
Legislation stipulates that the landlord only has to take ‘reasonable’ steps to avoid you being disadvantaged.
But what exactly does ‘reasonable’ mean in this context? There’s no clear definition here so consider the following:
the extent of your disability and how it affects you
the more likely the adjustment is to eliminate a disadvantage, the more likely it is to be reasonable
the length of your tenancy and likelihood of it being renewed compared with the cost and disruption of the adjustment
how difficult and costly it will be for a landlord to carry out
how difficult it will be to undo the adjustment when you leave the property
The Equality Act states that a disabled person should not be “at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled”.
Substantial means more than minor, not trivial, so this should also be considered when assessing whether you should submit a request for adaptations.
Examples of when you could be at a substantial disadvantage include:
not being able to hear a standard fire alarm because of a hearing impairment
not being able to climb steps to a doorway because of mobility problems
not being able to use taps because of manual dexterity issues
How to Make Your Request for Adaptations
The first step is to make an informal request, direct to your landlord or via your letting agent, outlining what adjustments you need and why they’ll help you. If you have a strong relationship based on open communication, a chat or phone call should get the result you need.
If that doesn’t work, you can then make a friendly but formal request via a letter or email to reiterate why the change is needed.
Alongside being reasonable, make it clear that:
it’s necessary to avoid a substantial disadvantage, e.g. show that someone without a disability wouldn’t be affected, or would be affected less than you
it’s needed to ensure your enjoyment of the premises
you meet the definition of disability in Section 6 of the Equality Act
You could quote your GP or other medical professional as evidence that the request is reasonable and necessary. Keep a record of all correspondence in case you need to rely on it later.
What to Do if Your Landlord Refuses to Make A Reasonable Adjustment
If your landlord fails to make a reasonable adjustment without a good reason, it’s discrimination under Section 21 of the Equality Act.
If making an informal complaint doesn’t yield results, you’re then entitled to take legal action against them as a case of ‘victimisation’. Start to gather evidence and then consider getting professional advice to maximise your chances of success.
The first step is to check the deadlines for taking action. You need to get the process moving quickly as legal action must begin within six months less one day from the date when you were discriminated against.
While this is happening, keep in mind that this can be a long, stressful and expensive process. While there’s plenty of support available, keeping the lines of communication with your landlord open can only work in your favour. They may change their mind when faced with the prospect of a court appearance.
Think about the ideal result and make sure your landlord is aware of this. You might be able to get:
a reasonable adjustment made to your home
the discrimination to stop
compensation, for example if you’ve lost money or been stressed or upset
changes to a policy or practice that will that stop the problem happening again, or happening to someone else
When they understand your ideal outcome, they may be more willing to negotiate. If not, prepare yourself for a court battle.
If your landlord tries to evict you because you’ve asked for adjustments, you’re protected by Section 27 of the Equality Act. You can use their failure to make the changes to defend yourself.
Getting Financial Help for Adaptations
If the adaptations you need cost less than £1,000, for example fitting lever taps or handrails, you can apply to your local authority to pay for these. You’ll need to complete a care needs assessment and meet the eligibility requirements.
If they’re more expensive, such as installing a downstairs bathroom or lowering kitchen worktops, you or your landlord can apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant. In England, you could get up to £30,000 depending on your income and savings.
Although they’re means-tested, the council cannot refuse your application solely because you’re a private tenant provided. Just be aware that both you and your landlord must confirm that you plan to stay in the property for the next five years.
When you know your rights as a disabled tenant, the chances of securing the ideal property will increase. Establish a good relationship with your landlord or letting agent and you’ll be on the right path to finding or adapting the perfect pad for you.
Explore MakeUrMove’s blog to discover more expert advice for tenants.