Housing Discrimination Based on Disability - Your Rights and Options


Housing Discrimination Based on Disability - Your Rights and Options

This fact sheet discusses the rights of people with disabilities to be free from disability-based discrimination in housing under federal and California law.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

Table of Contents


Housing discrimination against persons who have disabilities is illegal. Different things can be considered housing discrimination. Some examples of what housing discrimination looks like can be:

  • Being treated differently because of a disability
  • Physical barriers that block or hinder access
  • Harassment
  • Retaliation
  • Discriminatory statements
  • Failure to provide needed exceptions or changes (“reasonable accommodations and modifications”).

Difference Between Accommodations and Modifications

Reasonable accommodations are exceptions to rules, procedures, services, or policies. Reasonable modifications are physical changes to buildings, units, or grounds. Accommodations and modifications are reasonable if they:

  1. Are necessary to provide someone with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing;
  2. Do not fundamentally alter the nature of the housing or other services provided; or
  3. Do not impose an undue burden on the housing provider; or
  4. Do not constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of others or would not cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.

After the requestor establishes that the accommodation and/or modification is necessary (#1 above), the housing provider receiving the request can only legally deny the request because of #2, 3, or 4 above.

For more information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), a federal agency authorized to enforce federal fair housing laws, see: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/reasonable_accommodations_and_modifications

Making a Reasonable Accommodation Request

To receive a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification, you will need to ask for it. Even though you don’t need to ask for it in writing, and you don’t need to use the words “reasonable accommodation” or “reasonable modification,” it is a good idea to do both. This is because it will help make what you are asking for clearer, and you may need to use the document later to prove that you asked for the change. Submitting your request by email is an easy way to have documentation for later, but if you prefer to send it via snail mail be sure to keep a copy of your request for yourself.

To make a reasonable accommodation or modification request, the connection between the change needed and the person’s disability must be stated. For example, you cannot simply make a reasonable accommodation by stating, “I am a person with a disability, and I want to pay my rent on the 7th instead of the 1st of the month.” You need to provide a little more information than that. Instead, it will be more helpful and clear to state that, “because I don’t receive my disability-related income until the 6th of the month, I cannot pay rent on the 1st of the month, so I am asking for an exception to this rule to pay on the 7th.” Below is a sample for making these requests to housing providers.

Sample Letter to a Housing Provider Requesting Reasonable Accommodation(s) or Modification(s)


[Full name of the Landlord and/or Property Manager]

[Email address or physical address of the Landlord and/or Property Manager]

Dear [name of the Landlord and/or Property Manager]

I live at/am applying to rent your property at [address]. I am writing to request the following reasonable accommodations/modifications for my disability:




This request is related to my disability because:




My [physician/psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist/social worker/occupational therapist /other individual] has deemed these accommodations/modifications necessary due to my disability. I can provide this verification if you need it.

Federal and state law require that a housing provider reasonably accommodate tenants/occupants and applicants who have disabilities.

Please respond to this request, in writing, by [date]. Please understand that failure to respond to a reasonable accommodation, undue delay in responding, or unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation request constitutes disability discrimination. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 12177(e). Feel free to contact me at [your e-mail address/phone number]. Thank you for your attention to this request.


[Your name]

[Your address]


Housing providers can request a verification letter from their residents when the resident requests a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification and the need for the accommodation or modification is not obvious. A verification letter confirms that a person with a disability has a disability-related need for the change that they are requesting to their housing policies, procedures, services, or physical structures. Below is a sample for medical verification letters.

Sample Verification Letter from a Medical Professional


To [Landlord, Housing Authority, and Homeowners Association]:

I am the [physician/psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist/social worker/occupational therapist] for [patient/client name] and I am familiar with [his/her/their] condition. [Patient’s name] has a disability that causes certain functional limitations. These limitations include [list functional limitations that require the requested accommodation]:




[The requested accommodation] is necessary for [patient/client name] to live in the community and use and enjoy [his/her/their] dwelling by [describe how the accommodation will assist or support the individual [list the limitations that require the requested accommodation]:




Thank you for providing this reasonable accommodation for [patient/client name].


[Name and Title]

Enforcing Your Rights: Complaints and Lawsuits

If a landlord, homeowners association, or other housing provider refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation or modification, or otherwise discriminates against you, you will need to file an administrative complaint or a lawsuit to enforce your rights. These options can take a long time.

Administrative Complaints

You can file an administrative complaint with California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), within one year of the most recent date of discrimination. An overview of the complaint process with CRD, and information on how to file the complaint, can be found here: https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/complaintprocess/#:~:text=800%2D884%2D1684,-contact.center%40dfeh and you can look at CRD’s complaint flowchart here:https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2022/09/CRD-Non-Employment-Flowchart_ENG.pdf. You can also start the complaint process by calling (800) 884-1684 (voice) or (800) 700-2320 (TTY).

If CRD does not make a finding in your favor, CRD’s decision can be appealed to the CRD Director within 10 days of the decision.1

If you need an accommodation in working with CRD, contact CRD's ADA coordinator. You can find their information here - https://calcivilrights.ca.gov/adacoordinator/

You can also file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (HUD-FHEO)2 within one year of the discrimination. Information on how to file a HUD-FHEO complaint can be found by calling 1-800-669-9777 or on HUD’s website: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint Information on what the complaint process will look like can be found here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/complaint-process

Private Lawsuits

You can enforce your rights through civil lawsuits filed in federal or state court. You do not need to have a lawyer and you have the right to file for yourself if you are unable to get help or representation from a lawyer. Please be aware that there are time limits (“statutes of limitations”) that restrict how much time you have for filing claims in court, and you may automatically lose if you fail to file the lawsuit within that timeframe. These deadlines can be as short as two years from the date of discrimination. If interested in filing a lawsuit, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to get advice, explore your options, and potentially for representation. You will be responsible for paying filing fees to file your lawsuit, but you may be eligible for a fee waiver if you cannot afford to pay the filing fees.

Small Claims

If you are seeking up to $12,500 in money damages, you can file a discrimination case in Small Claims Court. Small claims court cases must be filed before the time limits (“statutes of limitations”) expire, and there is a filing fee unless you are eligible for a fee waiver. You can consult with a lawyer about Small Claims Court cases, but a lawyer cannot represent you in Small Claims Court. For more information, see Disability Rights California, A Guide to Small Claims Court: How to Sue if a Business or Landlord Discriminates Against You Because of Your Disability, at https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files?file=file-attachments/520601_0.pdf

Legal Citations and More Information

Housing discrimination against tenants and applicants who have disabilities is prohibited under federal law in the Fair Housing Amendments Act3 and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.4 Additionally, it is prohibited under California law in the Fair Employment and Housing Act5 and the Disabled Persons Act.6 These laws cover housing providers including landlords, homeowners’ associations, realtors, housing lenders, and owners and property managers of long-term housing including board and care homes, group homes, independent living homes, homeless shelters and, in some cases, nursing facilities.

For detailed information about disability-based housing discrimination, and how to request reasonable accommodations and modifications as a tenant or applicant for housing, see:

  • 1. See 2 C.C.R. Section 10065
  • 2. The Fair Housing Amendments Act allows for this.
  • 3. 42 U.S.C. Sections 3601-3631
  • 4. For housing that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or other federal financial assistance
  • 5. Government Code Sections 12955-12956.2
  • 6. Civil Code Sections 54.1 and 54.2