Home Modification Self-Help Guide

Sometimes as people age, their physical abilities fail and may make it difficult, or even impossible, to stay in their homes without some changes or modifications to the home.

What Are Home Modifications?

When we talk about "home modifications" in this Guide, we mean any alterations made to your home, apartment, condo, etc. that make it more livable. There are different types of programs available depending on the type of home modification you need. Home modifications may be relatively minor and inexpensive, such as installing grab bars, handrails, and lever handles. They may also be major and very expensive, such as installing elevators or lifts, enlarging doorways to allow wheelchair passage, modifying kitchens for easier meal preparation, or even installing emergency communication systems.

What Should I Do If I Need Modifications Made To My Home As A Result Of A Disability?

If you need modifications to your home as a result of a disability or failing health, and the modifications will help you to stay in your home, you should:

  • Get a prescription of medical necessity or a recommendation from a doctor or physical therapist describing what modification you need.
  • Contact your local Center for Independent Living to get advice and referrals on evaluating the extent of the modification (e.g., grab bars in bathtub or door widening for wheel chair access). The Center for Independent Living can also give you advice on designing and contracting for a modification

You also can call the Maryland Department of Aging Client & Community Services Division and ask for help.

  •  Contact any of the funding sources listed below and see whom they suggest might be able to do the job locally.
  •  Ask other people with disabilities, or families that have a person with a disability, whom they have used to make modifications to their home.
  • Contact a Builders’ Association or Building Owners & Managers Association to locate qualified home modification contractors or subcontractors familiar with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) standards, or state building code rules and regulations, for such modifications.
  • Contact the contractors directly.
  • Get at least 3 estimates from contractors of what the work will cost.

What Things Should I Consider Before Hiring A Contractor?

You need to be very careful and do your homework before hiring a contractor. You want to make sure you hire a contractor for a fair price who will complete the work in a timely manner and do a quality job. There are steps you can take to help ensure that you will be satisfied. Estimates should include a list of exactly what you're getting for the price. Be sure the price includes all labor and materials. Make sure your contractor has a Home Improvement License and has liability insurance. Also, ask to see a copy of his workmen's compensation policy. You may be liable if a worker is injured on your property. Always check with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission [410-230-6309] to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. Ask each contractor for references (people who have used the contractor’s services in the past). Be sure to call the references. Once you decide upon a contractor, insist on a written contract. The contract should contain a complete description of the work to be done, the materials to be used, the starting and completion dates, and the payment schedule. It should also have the full name, address and phone number of the contractor and the homeowner. Remember all promises and plans should be in writing.

Are There Funds Available To Help With The Cost Of Needed Home Modifications?

As mentioned earlier, many states and communities offer home modification programs. These programs are usually administered by local community development or social service agencies, and use varying combinations of state and federal funds. Some programs have carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters on staff who come to the home and perform the required work. Some programs furnish free labor, and the homeowner purchases the necessary materials. Low-interest or no-interest loans, usually not repayable until the homeowner sells or leaves the home, are offered by other programs. Some programs simply provide a list of reliable contractors and assist in the process of receiving bids, selecting the contractor, developing a contract and ensuring that the work is performed in accordance with the contract. Weatherization programs are also available and usually provide the necessary materials for insulating homes and apartments, and sometimes provide the labor for those who qualify. In some areas, utility companies provide free energy audits and advice on weatherizing homes to reduce energy costs. Call the Maryland Department of Aging to find out what help may be available to you. The following list identifies possible places you can look if you need help to finance needed home modifications:

Private Funds

  • Save money for the modifications you want to do.
  • Take it as a Medical deduction on Form 1040 income tax return at the end of the year.
  • If work-related, take it as an Impairment Related Work Expense on Form 1040 income tax return at end of year. also, check to see if Workman’s Compensation will pay for it.
  • Get contributions/donations/in-kind work from others (family members, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, other private foundations or community service groups, churches, sorority/fraternity service organizations or craftsmen’s unions).
  • Private Health Insurance: Read policy and/or call to see if they will pay for the modification. Show them the prescription or a letter from your doctor or physical therapist. If they say no, get a written ‘letter of denial’ to take to public or other sources.

Public Funds

  • Vocational Rehabilitation: Get on VR’s "independent living" caseload. Present modification as ‘needed for being on the job’.
  • Under the Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act), many states have developed programs that offer assistance on evaluating equipment and who in the state can fund it. Contact the Maryland Center for Independent Living and ask them for information and referral on funding and resources that support "independent living in the community". Follow the trail!
  • If on Medicaid, check to see if this is a covered item in the state’s plan. Contact your county welfare office for Medicaid eligibility. (Funds may be available for home modifications under a Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver in your state.)
  • Contact your local Social Security office to see if any of the equipment you need might be covered under Medicare.
  • If you or your spouse were a veteran, you may be eligable for the Accessible Homes For Seniors Program (AHS) which provides funing for accessibility home improvements for seniors.
  • Housing Agency: Contact public housing authority (Office of Community Services, Supportive Services, Section 8, etc.). Ask, "Is there low income assistance for housing modifications for people with disabilities?"
  • If renting, work with your landlord or management company. Get written approval to do the work. If the landlord or management company refuses to do the work or won’t give permission, get the denial in writing. Meet with Fair Housing Act (FHA) agency people if necessary. Note, it is legal to make disability accommodations in rental housing, but landlords can require restoration of the apartment to pre-accommodation status when the disabled tenant leaves. If you are about to rent or about to buy a place, negotiate with the builder/seller to have needed modifications specified in the lease, condo or purchase agreement.

Are There Other Ways To Finance Home Modifications And Repairs?

Even if you are not eligible for any of the programs in your area that help with the costs of home modifications, there are other ways to get cash to pay for needed work, including home equity conversion, deferred payment loans, reverse mortgages, sale/leasebacks, and life estates. If you need more information on these options, you can write to AARP at AARP Home Equity Information Center, AARP Foundation, 601 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049, or call 1-888-687-2277.

Source: 

Adapted from AARP Legal Services Network publication by Legal Aid Bureau, Inc.
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