Can I sue my landlord for not accommodating my disability?
If you are renting a certain type of apartment and the development or building is not accessible to your disability, you may have the right to sue for relief and a transfer to an accessible unit, under some circumstances. This is because the Maryland Accessibility Code requires that multifamily apartment buildings that are built after 1990 or substantially renovated provide units that are accessible to tenants with physical disabilities. The exception is where the apartment building has fewer than four units. If your apartment is owned by or receives a public housing subsidy from a Public Housing Authority, you may not use this law to enforce your right to accessibility (although you will have other rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act). In addition, if your apartment is federally subsidized, you may have other, more robust rights to request that your landlord make and pay for reasonable modifications to your disability or transfer you to a unit that will accommodate your disability-related needs.
The Maryland Accessibility Code
The Maryland Accessibility Code is a mandatory state building code, similar to the International Building Code. Every county and Baltimore City must adopt and enforce the Maryland Accessibility Code. The Maryland Accessibility Code has been the law for many years, although the accessibility enforcement provisions were only adopted in 2013.
The Maryland Accessibility Code requires all multifamily landlords and developers with four or more units in a building to make accessibility modifications when they build or substantially renovate their properties. Upon substantially renovating a property, owners of multifamily units can make one accessible unit for every 25 (4%) fully accessible, or alter all ground floor units to make more limited modifications for persons using wheelchairs. Normal maintenance, reroofing, and changes to mechanical or electrical systems do not trigger compliance with accessibility modifications.
Landlords can apply for a waiver if the accessibility renovations would be unreasonably expensive or structurally infeasible. Note that the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development does not have authority to waive accesibility requirements imposed by federal law. Read the Law: COMAR 05.02.02.07;COMAR 05.02.02.09
Am I qualified to bring a lawsuit?
You have to be living in or thinking about moving into a building that you believe is violating the Maryland Accessibility Code. You must not be living in a unit owned by a Public Housing Authority or subsidized with public housing funds. In most cases, if you are living in a federally-subsidized unit, it will be more advantageous to you to request reasonable modifications be made to your unit, or a transfer to an accessible unit, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. You may wish to speak to a lawyer to better understand your rights.
What do I need to do to file a lawsuit under the Maryland Accessibility Code?
There are three steps that you need to take:
- Write a notice to the property manager that
- Explains your disability-related accessibility need. Include a letter from your disability supports or medical provider explaining that you are a person with a disability and have a disability-related need for the accessible unit or common areas that you have requested.
- Identifies the area(s) of the building that does not comply
- Asks for your unit to be modified or a transfer to a unit that will be modified
- States that the property manager has 30 days to address the problem
- Date your letter and keep a copy for your records. Certified mail is recommended, in addition to a second copy sent by first class mail.
- Wait 30 days
- If the property manager does not fix the problem, you can sue in District or Civil Court.
Note: You always have the right to request other reasonable modifications from your Landlord, even if your apartment is not subject to the Maryland Accessibility Code. The Fair Housing Amendments Act requires a landlord to permit you to modify your unit or common areas at your own expense, under most circumstances. There may be funding available to assist with paying for the cost of modifications. See the Maryland Department of Disabilities website for more information.
What happens if I win in court?
If the court finds that there was a violation of the Maryland Accessibility Code, it may:
- Enforce compliance of the apartment building
- Award you with the cost of bringing the lawsuit
- Award you any damages that you had suffered because the noncompliance Read the Law: MD Code Ann. Public Safety §12-202