Persons with Disabilities Fact Sheet

What is Fair Housing?

Fair housing is a set of principles and laws that mandate equal access and opportunity in housing. Fair housing covers all housing-related activities, from search and application to amenities, management policies, terms and conditions plus termination of tenancy. Fair housing covers persons who are members of a protected class which are designated as groups of persons and their families that historically have experienced discrimination. In Massachusetts, those classes are race, religion, national origin, gender, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, public assistance (including rental vouchers), genetic information, and military status.

What types of housing is covered by fair housing?

Fair housing laws apply to most types of housing. The private real estate market and all types of government-funded housing must be compliant. Fair housing laws are not restricted to rentals. Condos, co-ops, “rent-to-own” and single-family ownership units are covered as well.

Who is included in the disability protective class?

Persons who meet any of the following definitions are covered:

  • A physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities (seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, speaking, or working);
  • A record of having such an impairment; or
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment, but such term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance.

Are there specific fair housing provisions for persons with disabilities in the state and federal laws?

Yes, there are three specific provisions – design and construction specifications for accessible housing, reasonable accommodation, and reasonable modification.

What housing is required to be accessible?

Under the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, multifamily buildings with four or more units first occupied after 3/13/91 are covered. Under the Massachusetts Chapter 151B, multifamily buildings with three or more units first occupied after 3/13/91 are required to be accessible. Both the federal and state laws mandate that residential accessibility meet the following seven design and construction requirements:

Req. 1. An accessible building entrance on an accessible route.

Req. 2. Accessible common-and public-use areas.

Req. 3. Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair).

Req. 4. Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.

Req. 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls at accessible heights

Req. 6. Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars.

Req. 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

What is a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities?

Reasonable accommodations are changes or waivers to polices, practices, procedures or services to allow accessibility and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations can be denied only when they cause an undue administrative and financial burden or if they change the basic nature of the housing. Common examples of reasonable accommodations may be leases in large print, waiving of a “no pets” policy if someone uses an assistive animal, or request for relocation to a ground-floor unit for someone who has recently become disabled.

Are reasonable accommodations restricted to specific activities?

A reasonable accommodation can be requested in every type of housing transaction, such as tenant screening, determination of eligibility, leasing (including policies and their implementation, such as “no pets”), security deposits, terms and conditions of tenancy, housekeeping standards and provision of amenities as well as eviction and other termination of residency actions.

How does someone prove they have a disability if they need a reasonable accommodation?

Documentation is not necessary if a person’s disability is known or apparent. For example, someone who uses a wheelchair would not need to document that they have a disability. If the disability is not apparent or unknown to the housing provider, such as an individual with a psychiatric disability, documentation can be requested from a health care provider. The health care provider can be a primary physician, nurse, nurse practitioner, licensed social worker, counselor, psychologist, etc. The documentation does not need to disclose the nature or severity of the disability. It need only say that their patient is a person with a disability and due to that disability, a reasonable accommodation is needed.

Must the housing provider approve a reasonable accommodation request?

The request must be approved as long as it does not cause an undue administrative and financial burden or change the basic nature of the housing program.

What is a reasonable modification?

A reasonable modification is a physical alteration to a unit or common-use area to allow a person with a disability greater accessibility and use of the premises. In Massachusetts, if the property is government funded or there are 10 or more or contiguous units, the owner assumes the cost of the reasonable modification. If the housing does not meet either of these conditions, then the person making the reasonable modification request assumes the cost.

Is there financial assistance available for owners who must provide reasonable modifications?

The state-funded Home Modification Loan Program (HMLP) provides low- and no-interest loans to make modifications to the homes of elders, adults with disabilities, and families with children with disabilities. For further information contact Metro Housing|Boston at (617) 425-6637.

Are there other federal housing anti-discrimination laws besides fair housing?

Housing providers who receive direct subsidies from the federal agencies are covered by Sec.504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If the housing provider receives direct state or local government funds, he/she also will be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Where can I get more information on fair housing?

You can contact the Metro Housing|Boston Fair Housing Manager at (617) 425-6681 for technical assistance with any questions you may have. You can also contact any of the resources listed below.

Communities we serve

Metro Housing|Boston serves individuals and families, as well property owners, in 30 communities throughout Greater Boston.

  • Arlington
  • Bedford
  • Belmont
  • Boston
  • Braintree
  • Brookline
  • Burlington
  • Cambridge
  • Chelsea
  • Everett
  • Lexington
  • Lynn*
  • Malden
  • Medford
  • Melrose
  • Milton
  • Newton
  • North Reading
  • Quincy
  • Reading
  • Revere
  • Somerville
  • Stoneham
  • Wakefield
  • Waltham
  • Watertown
  • Wilmington
  • Winchester
  • Winthrop
  • Woburn

*Metro Housing|Boston does not administer RAFT, Voucher Programs, or HomeBASE assistance in Lynn. See Lynn Housing Authority.
*In addition to the 30 communities listed above, Metro Housing|Boston administers rental voucher programs in Holbrook, Randolph, and Weymouth. If you are specifically seeking RAFT assistance in those communities,
you must apply instead to Housing Solutions. (