Rights of Tenants with Disabilities

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All tenants have certain rights, but tenants with disabilities have unique rights under Michigan and federal law. To learn more about the rights that all tenants have, read Tenant Rights and Responsibilities.

What Disabilities Are Protected?

A disability is any impairment that limits a major life activity. Major life activities include caring for yourself, working, communicating, and learning.

Some examples of protected disabilities are:

  • Visual, speech, or hearing issues

  • Mobility issues

  • Cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy

  • Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS

  • Intellectual disability

  • Emotional illness

  • Drug addiction or alcoholism

A landlord cannot treat a tenant or housing applicant differently (discriminate against) because of their disability. This includes a former disability or a mistaken belief that a tenant has a disability. All of the members of the tenant’s family, such as their child, are protected from discrimination. In fact, a landlord may be required to adjust its policies and practices or allow a tenant to make physical changes (modifications) to their home so they can enjoy their home as much as other tenants do.

To learn more about discrimination, read Discrimination in Rental Housing.

Reasonable Accommodation

A reasonable accommodation is a change to a rule or practice that gives a tenant with a disability an equal chance to use and enjoy a home. Some common examples of reasonable accommodation requests are:

  • A tenant with limited mobility requesting a parking space closer to their door

  • A tenant requesting to pay rent on or after the third of each month since that is when they get their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) money

  • A tenant asking that their caregiver be allowed to stay overnight a few nights a week

  • A tenant asking a landlord not to evict them because of an incident related to a mental health condition (in this case, the tenant usually must show steps have been taken to prevent another incident, such as getting counseling or taking medication)

Assistance Animals

A very common reasonable accommodation is having an assistance animal. A landlord can restrict access or charge fees for pets, but generally not for assistance animals when a reasonable accommodation is requested and necessary. Assistance animals are not pets.

Assistance animals are known by many different names. Some examples are:

  • Service animals

  • Emotional support animals

  • Comfort animals

  • Therapy animals

What an animal is called depends on whether it is trained and certified to do a specific skill, or if it provides some type of comfort and support. While service animals, such as leader dogs, do a specific task and must be certified and trained, other types of assistance animals do not have to be trained or certified. Although dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

Buildings that are open to the public, such as rental offices, cannot prohibit assistance animals.

Unlike rental housing landlords, providers of “public accommodations,” such as restaurants and airlines, are only required to admit service animals and can deny access to other types of assistance animals.

Illegal Discrimination

It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant who has an assistance animal by:

  • Asking a tenant to pay a “pet fee” or similar charge for the animal

  • Asking a tenant for extensive medical history to prove a disability

  • Refusing to give a tenant housing because of a “no pets” policy

  • Refusing to admit an assistance animal because of its breed, size, or weight (generally speaking)

  • Asking a tenant to provide proof of an obvious disability

Landlord’s Rights

A landlord can ask for a note from a doctor or other medical professional if a tenant’s disability or the need for a reasonable accommodation is not obvious. For example, if a tenant has an emotional support animal, the landlord can ask for a note from the tenant’s doctor. A landlord can also ask if an animal is an assistance animal needed for a disability and what work the animal performs.

A landlord or other housing provider can deny an animal access if it is not house-trained or is out of control. A landlord can also refuse to allow an assistance animal if the animal is a serious and genuine threat to others or the property of others. This threat must be based on that specific animal’s actions, not fears about what it might do, nor its breed or size. For example, a landlord cannot deny housing or a reasonable accommodation to a tenant with a pit bull assistance animal because the landlord thinks all pit bulls are violent.

Reasonable Modification

A reasonable modification is a change to a building that lets a tenant with a disability use and enjoy a home more fully. It includes changes to public and common use spaces as well as private spaces within a tenant’s home. Some examples are:

  • Adding a ramp for a wheelchair

  • Widening doorways

  • Adding grab bars in the bathroom

  • Lowering kitchen countertops

A landlord cannot refuse to allow reasonable and necessary physical changes to a property. In private housing, the tenant will probably have to pay the cost of making the changes and maintaining them, unless their cost is low. If the cost is low, the landlord may have to pay the cost of the reasonable accommodation.

If a landlord gets government funding to maintain accessible housing, they may have to cover the cost of the modification. If a landlord accepts Section 8 vouchers, this exception does not apply, and the landlord likely won’t have to pay for the modification.

If a tenant needs a modification but can’t afford the cost, there could be community resources to help pay for it. The tenant can call their local fair housing center to ask about whether this type of help is available. The fair housing centers in Michigan are:

If there is not a Fair Housing Center in the area, or to find other referrals, tenants can contact Michigan 2-1-1 by dialing 211 from any Michigan phone line.

In agreeing to a reasonable modification, a landlord may ask a tenant to undo physical changes before moving out, if it’s reasonable to do so. A landlord cannot charge an extra security deposit to ensure the changes are undone. However, sometimes a landlord can require the tenant to have an interest bearing escrow account for this purpose. The interest from the account should be payable to the tenant.

A landlord can ask for a description of the proposed modification. They can also ask for a guarantee the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that the tenant will get any permits needed for the work.

When Can a Landlord Deny a Request?

A landlord can deny a request for a reasonable modification if any of these are true:

  • It would fundamentally change the building

  • It is unreasonably expensive or impossible to do

  • It poses a physical threat to other tenants or the property

Asking for a Reasonable Accommodation or Modification

To get a reasonable accommodation or modification, a tenant must ask for it. This can be done verbally, but it is better to do it in writing so a copy can be kept as a record. The tenant may have to show the change in the rule or property is necessary, e.g. it will lessen the effects of the disability. The tenant must also show that there is a connection between the proposed change and the disability.

The request should include all of these:

  • A statement that the tenant has a disability (if the disability is not known or obvious to the landlord) and how it impairs the tenant’s use of their home

  • The reasonable accommodation/modification that is needed

  • How the accommodation/modification will help the tenant use their home

You can use the Do-It-Yourself Request for a Reasonable Accommodation/Modification (coming soon) to complete your request.

If a request is necessary and reasonable, the landlord must grant the request. If a landlord thinks a request is not necessary or reasonable, it must work with a tenant to try to come up with an accommodation that will work for both parties. If two changes are equally reasonable, the landlord should let the tenant with a disability choose. A landlord cannot force an accommodation on a tenant.

If a landlord and tenant can’t agree on an accommodation or modification, or for other housing discrimination problems, the tenant can file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Or, a tenant can sue the landlord. To decide if a request is reasonable, MDCR, HUD, or a court will look at all of the following:

  • If the burden or cost to the landlord is undue (too much)

  • If it is a major change to the nature of the landlord’s business

  • The availability of other similar choices

If a tenant believes their landlord is discriminating against them, they can contact a fair housing center. Fair housing centers can provide tenants with information about their rights. They also may be able to help a tenant to contact their landlord to persuade them to allow an accommodation or modification. The Fair Housing Centers in Michigan are:

To learn more about discrimination, read Discrimination in Rental Housing.


Landlords who own and live in a home they also rent do not have to provide reasonable accommodations or modifications if the home has less than four rental units. A rental unit can be a house, apartment, or room.

If a building does not have an elevator, only the first floor units need to be wheelchair accessible.

Are Landlords and Tenants the Only Ones these Laws Apply to?

No. Housing providers (such as mobile home parks, a housing association, a condo association, and even real estate salespeople) must follow these laws when it comes to homeowners with disabilities. That means those organizations could have to change their rules to accommodate a homeowner and prevent discrimination.