Fair Housing

Fair Housing: Guide for Property Managers Using Non-Discriminatory Practices for Tenants with Disabilities

The text for this brochure has been produced by Pacific Nonprofit Training Center under a Fair Housing Initiatives Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Grant #FH200G9300012. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government.

Available in alternative formats, call 703-324-5421, TTY 703-449-1186, or send an e-mail.


There are three federal laws that relate to the protection of people with disabilities from discriminatory housing practices. They are:

1. The Fair Housing Act:

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on disability by:

  • a. Prohibiting discriminatory housing practices
  • b. Requiring reasonable accommodations to be made and
  • c. Requiring certain construction standards for multifamily dwellings built for first time occupancy after March 1991.
2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act:

Any public housing or public assisted housing provider that receives federal dollars is covered under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you operate a Section 8 housing project or a Section 202 federally subsidized apartment complex, you are covered under both Section 504 and the Fair Housing Act.

3. The Americans with Disabilities Act: (ADA)

Title II: Title II of the ADA covers all "public entities" ­ state and local governments regardless of whether they receive federal funding. Examples include: Low income housing units managed by the state or city; Public Housing Authorities; Section 8 certificate or voucher programs run by the state, county or city; or any city or county sponsored single room occupancy building.

Back to Top


The Fair Housing Act establishes accessible design and construction requirements for new construction of covered multi­family dwellings for first time occupancy after March 13, 1991. Single family dwellings are not covered under construction requirements. Multi-family dwellings is defined as consisting of four or more units. Examples of multi­family dwellings include: apartment complexes, condo units, single story townhouses, and high rises. If a building has no elevator, the accessible construction standards apply to ground floor units.



Discrimination or improper selecting, usually falls into obvious or subtle types of action:

Examples of discrimination can include:

  • Refusing to show or rent to a "protected class " (1 )
  • Charging higher fees, deposits or rent to a "protected class".
  • Refusing to show or issuing a denial to rent with a statement that the "unit has been rented" when in fact the unit is available.
  • Showing less desirable units.
  • Coding applications with a preference given to a "non­protected class".
  • Questions or statements which indicate a different selection process.

(1) "Protected class" means denial due to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability.

Discrimination suits can be avoided by the development and implementation of a written tenant selection system which applies the same criteria to each applicant. The development of a written application policy defining your standards and requirements of applicants forces the property manager to consciously think about the process.

Discrimination is illegal when a landlord treats one applicant or tenant differently than he treats another. Discrimination is also illegal when the policy has a greater affect of excluding a particular group. For example: If the manager denies a person's application because the income source comes from an entitlement benefit rather than employment this practice becomes illegal. It does not matter where the income comes from as long as it is not from and illegal source and the person can show the ability to pay rent.

It is best to follow a policy of written standards and requirements for the processing of all applications that are based on a business necessity and treat all people equally. For example: Requiring a high school diploma to fill out an application is not a business necessity to prove a person can pay their rent and therefore would not need to be a requirement. You can have a requirement that no smoking is allowed in your rental because it affects your business. You will most likely have to re­paint or fix burns in the carpet before renting to the next applicant.

Back to Top


In non­federally funded (or private sector) dwellings, units may be designed and constructed with adaptable kitchens and bathrooms, which means that features can be added or removed to allow accessibility. All other features to the dwelling need to follow the Fair Housing Act accessibility standards and regulations.



For federally funded housing projects with elevator in buildings, all units must be designed and constructed to be fully accessible and usable by people with disabilities. In non­elevator buildings the ground floor units are to follow the Fair Housing Act requirements.

Back to Top


ALL housing is covered under the Fair Housing Act with regard to advertising. This applies to the sale, rental or financing of a single family house as well as covered multi­family units.

It is unlawful to make, print or publish, or cause to be made, printed or published, any notice, statements or advertisement with respect to the sale, rental or financing of a dwelling which indicates a preference, limitation or discrimination. Written notices and statements include: applications, brochures, signs, banners, newspaper ads. flyers or any document regarding the sale, rental or financing of the property.

Discriminatory notices, statements and advertising include:

  • Using words, phrases, photos, illustrations or forms which convey that dwellings are available or not available to the particular group of persons because of national origin, religion, sex, race, color, familial status, or disability.
  • Expressing to agents, brokers, employees or renters and illegal preference for or limitation on any purchaser or renter.
  • Selecting media or location for advertisement of the rental of units which denies segments of the housing market information about housing opportunities.

Back to Top


A landlord cannot:

  • Refuse to rent or deal with someone because he/she has a disability.
  • Apply different rules, deposits or extra rental charges.
  • Make false statements about a particular unit's availability.
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations or modifications.
  • Intimidate or retaliate against someone who files a complaint.
  • Restrict the choice of unit or neighborhood of a perspective tenant.

A landlord can:

  • Ask qualifying questions of all prospective tenants as long as the same questions are asked of all prospective tenants
  • Check references of a prospective tenant.
  • Check a prospective tenants ability to pay rent.
  • Create rules for the benefit of all building tenants as long as the rules do not discriminate against a protected individual or class.
  • Ask a prospective tenant with a disability how best to make reasonable accommodations, if requested, and proof of the need for the accommodation.

Back to Top


Physical Access:

You must ensure that your screening process is open and fully accessible to applicants with disabilities. This means your application office must be physically accessible and located on an accessible transportation route, unless it would create an undue financial and administrative hardship. If the office is not accessible, you need to make arrangements to deliver the application in person or by mail or to meet the prospective tenant in another accessible location.

Communication Access:

Documents intended for use by the applicant must be available in other formats such as large print, braille and/or audio­taped. They need to be written clearly and simply to assist people with learning disabilities. Communication access for people who are hearing impaired and deaf also needs to be provided. You may need to go over the material verbally or assist the applicant with filling out the application and other needed forms.


After the person with a disability has become a tenant, he or she may request a modification to their unit in order to enjoy full use of it. Examples of modifications requested may include: building a ramp over the front steps to enter the dwelling; widening a doorway to the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom; installing grab bars in the bathroom; or removing a piece of carpet.

The modifications made are paid for by the tenant. You may require the unit be restored to its original condition when the tenant moves. You may require the tenant to pay into an interest bearing escrow account, over a period of time, a reasonable amount of money not to exceed the cost of restorations. You may not ask for an increased security deposit.

Modifications made in public­assisted housing may need to be paid for by the owner, depending on financial resources. In federally funded public housing, the tenant is usually not required to pay for modifications as a reasonable accommodation.


The Virginia Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, elderliness, familial status, or handicap and makes it illegal to discriminate through practices such as:

  • Refusal to sell, rent, negotiate for or finance housing.
  • Setting different terms and conditions for the sale, rental, or financing of housing or the provision of service related to housing.
  • Denying access to membership or participation in a multiple listing service.
  • Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental.
  • Attempting to "blockbust" a neighborhood by persuading owners to sell or rent due to an alleged influx of "certain" people.
  • Steering home seekers to "specific" neighborhoods, sections of complexes, etc. (for example: families with children only allowed in ground floor apartments.)
  • Coercion, intimidation, threats or interference in buying or renting housing.

Housing opportunities for families:

Unless a building or community meets the specific requirements of housing for older persons, it may not discriminate because of familial status. Familial status means families in which one or more children under age 18 live with a parent, legal guardian, or the designee of the parent or legal guardian with his/her written permission. Familial status also includes pregnant women and anyone in the process of securing legal custody of child.

Additional protection for persons with disabilities

Having a disability means:

  • A physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • A medical or psychological record of having such a disability, or
  • Being regarded as having such a disability.

A landlord may not:

  • Refuse to allow a disabled person to make reasonable modifications at his or her expense to a dwelling or common use area, if necessary to use the housing. Where reasonable, the landlord may require that the property be restored to its original condition.
    • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if needed for the disabled person to use the housing. For example:
    • A building with a "no pets" policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.
    • An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near his/her apartment if necessary to assure access to the unit.

    However, housing does not have to be made available to a person who poses a clear and present threat of substantial harm to themselves, others, or the dwelling.

Fairfax Area Resources 

Endependence Center of Northern Virginia
703-525-3268, TTY 703-525-3553
Provides consultation on the ADA and will assist in making referrals.

Falls Church City ADA
Compliance Officer 703-248-5005, TTY 703-248-5149

Mid-Atlantic ADA Center
Voice/TTY 1-800-949-4232
Information and technical assistance on federal accessibility requirements of the ADA and related statutes.

Fairfax County Building Permits
703-222-0114, TTY 711
Provides information on county building codes.

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

ADA Accessibility | Website Accessibility
Awards | FOIA | Mobile | Using this Site | Web Disclaimer & Privacy Policy | Get Adobe Reader
Official site of the County of Fairfax, Virginia, © Copyright 2016

Website Feedback Website Feedback    Globe with various flags representing Web site language translations   Language Translations

Return to Graphic Version