My family and I recently went through a rather difficult, yet educational experience. For the first time since my injury I was jointly responsible for a home. By the this I mean my name was on the lease. Many of us in chairs often live with family, some us received a settlement and bought a home, but there are those of us making a go of it out there in world living in a place we do not own. This means Landlords and that can be good, or really bad.
Last year my family and I moved to a new state to start a business. We had trained, saved, and searched for the right opportunity as well as the property. We planned to run a home-based food business and so infrastructure and amenities were equally important as accessibility. We finally found what we wanted and in a flurry of activity we signed a lease, packed, and moved. So as not to bog down this post with the gory details I’ll get to the point… the Landlord was dishonest and breached the lease causing us to lose a years’ worth of hard work, money, and ultimately we had to get a lawyer. Now ultimately our case stands on its own for anyone leasing a home, but in our effort to educate ourselves about our rights I learned a few things I felt it might be worth it to pass on to you. So here’s a few tips...
Make friends with a Lawyer. I’m serious. Attorneys get paid for their time and do get expensive, but the $150-$250 to have them read through a lease agreement could save you thousands on down the road. If you’re in a chair there are many pro bono disability rights services that can at least advise you on such matters before you sign anything. If you have a friend or family member who is an attorney don’t assume favors, be honest about what you can afford, tell them what you need, and offer them something for their time.
Don’t be in a hurry. If you are even remotely considering moving start looking now. Give yourself time. When you rush you settle for second best and a lease can be a difficult thing to get out of.
Don’t be impressed and don’t believe the pictures. Anything can look great with a coat of paint. If you are limited physically take someone with you who can look at the attic, the crawl spaces, the plumbing, and under the cabinets. Have them check for rot, mold, leaks, pests, and anything that could be unsafe or a fire hazard.
Be specific with the Landlord about your needs. Educate yourself about disabled tenant’s rights. There’s a lot of them and they’re in your favor. There are many resources online. However, be kind and polite. Explain your daily routine and how the space does or does not work, and what you can do to change it. Educate yourself on all the accessibility aides that are modular and can save them money. They will appreciate that.
Ask for references and do your homework. They will want references from you, expect no less from them. If you can, speak to previous renters, other current tenants, employees, or other professional connections. Listen and watch their reactions, it will tell you a lot.
Get it in writing, get it in writing, GET IT IN WRITING. Protect yourself now and you won’t have to fight later. If the lease is vague, get it rewritten in clear language. Know exactly what you are responsible for and what you are not. If you need special wording due to the wheel chair be honest and say what you want.
Life in a chair can be a daily challenge. Knowledge is power and can ease the stress of so many unnecessary battles. Living independently is a great blessing and gift that many don’t get to enjoy. The more of us who get out there and make it the norm the more landlords will make more and more properties accessible.
Thanks for reading.