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DISABILITY REGULATIONS for LANDLORDS - Advice from LETTINGFOCUS.COM

LettingFocus.com expert Lawrenson explains what buy to let landlords need to know about disability rules and regulations.

New laws make it clerar that landlords must not discriminate against tenants on the grounds of disability.

In this article I'll explain what things you must do to accommodate disabled people - and what you don’t have to do.

Under the law disability is defined as any mental or physical impediment that adversely affects someone’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

Disability has to be “Long Term” to count as a disability - which means it has to last or, be expected to last, for over a year.

This means that things like cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis are included within the definition.

So, it is important to think beyond physical things like whether or not the person is wheelchair bound – i.e. whether or not you can actually “see” the disability is irrelevant.

 

DISABILITY RULES

The new rules came in from December 4th 2006 and say landlords should make “reasonable adjustments” to their property if required and if asked.

Both employers and landlords are targeted by the new rules and tenants now have rights to make their own improvements unless a landlord has “reasonable grounds” for refusing permission. However, tenants must, of course, ask first.

In addition, the new duty only applies for a particular disabled person and only if the adjustment is really needed. So, there is no need to think that any adjustments you make have to be made permanent.

There are three areas where a landlord may need to make changes to accommodate a disabled person. These are as follows:

  • The landlord may have to provide auxiliary aids and services.
  • He may need to change practices and procedures associated with the letting.
  • He may need to make a change to the "terms of the letting" where the premises are actually let.

However, what he does NOT need to do is to change or alter any physical feature which is a part of the design or construction of the building.

So, what might he have to change?

Well, anything that is not a physical feature, really.

Richard Jones of the Residential Landlords Association says, “The rules make it clear that furniture, equipment and chattels are not physical features, so these may have to be changed. Neither are signs, notices, door handles, taps or door entry systems. So, again these may have to be changed to accommodate a disabled person.”


WHAT IS REASONABLE

But whether you need to actually change something will depend upon the circumstances and whether it is “reasonable” to make such a change.

So, whilst you might need to provide different furniture, you would not have to change it if doing so meant that what replaced it was “a physical feature.” For example, you would not need to put in a stair lift.

However, you might be required to change a tap or a door handle to one that could be more easily used by someone with a disability, or provide a ramp so that they could get up and down steps.

Other services you might be expected to provide for people with sight problems might include providing a large print tenancy agreement or taking time to sit down and talk through a legal notice with a sight disabled tenant in addition to or instead of writing it down. 

Richard Jones, says, “You may need to change surface colours in order to make them more easily used by disabled people. Also, if you have a parking policy it may have to be changed to allow for an essential motor vehicle. Or a letting condition may need to be amended to allow a guide dog.”

 

COMPLIANCE COSTS

The rules say that landlords cannot pass on the costs associated with making such changes to the disabled tenant - they will have to absorb them instead - though how the authorities can stop a landlord increasing the rent at next renewal to compensate is a mute point.

Failure to comply with the rules could in the worst case lead to court proceedings, claims for damages and if the property is an HMO, the loss of an HMO licence.

However, the rules are not supposed to be too draconian.

For a start the tenant has to first make a request to trigger the landlords’ duty to act and the landlord only has to do what is reasonable in the circumstances.

This test of what is reasonable would involve questioning if any change proposed was really going to help the disabled person or whether it is going to be impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to enjoy the property even once the changes have been made. Also, any disruption to others has to be taken into account.

 

GRANTS AVAILABLE FOR LANDLORDS

Grants may be available and the Government is currently consulting on proposals to improve the grants programme. Small adaptations of the kind envisaged by the Disability Discrimination Act may well qualify.


ABOUT DAVID LAWRENSON AND LETTINGFOCUS

Our main work is our consultancy role in which we help organisations and public bodies with their products and services for the private rented sector. If you are from an organisation go to our home page: LETTING FOCUS HOME PAGE

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Copyright 2011 David Lawrenson. This article must not be copied or re-used without the author and copyright owner’s prior permission. 

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