In December 2014, an article in The Guardian reported on the findings of a study conducted by Leonard Cheshire Disability – a leading UK charity for disabled people. Within their study, entitled ‘No Place Like Home’, they looked at the country’s accessible housing and revealed that around 300,000 disabled people were ‘stuck on housing waiting lists across the UK’ and were being ‘forced to make do in accommodation that does not meet their needs’.
Naturally, such damning statements aren’t positive reading, especially for those looking for accessible housing. However, what this does suggest is there’s a large market of potential tenants in need of homes that offer independent living, which landlords in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) could provide.
The mutual benefits are that those in need of disability-friendly housing find somewhere that affords them a decent standard of living, and that private landlords will have their properties occupied by people who may otherwise have struggled to find somewhere – potentially meaning more long-term tenancies.
There are however a number of factors for both parties to consider in the letting of a property, such as legal requirements and providing the right facilities and accessibility. In this tips piece, we look at these requirements in closer detail and provide information for both landlords and those with disabilities, to help make any potential lets as straightforward as possible.
UK rights for the disabled
The Equality Act 2010 was introduced to protect ‘people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society’. In turn, ‘making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations.’
The Act also gave a definition of what having a ‘disability’ was. It states in Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 6:
‘A person (P) has a disability if-
a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and
b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’
It’s important to note though that the Equality Act 2010 doesn’t apply in Northern Ireland. Instead the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is in place, which shares very similar principles to the Equality Act 2010.
The protection these Acts provide extends into the rental sector and subsequently provisions must be made to ensure that a property meets these standards. Equally, it’s illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a disabled tenant; you can find further detail about disabled tenants’ rights in this useful advice page from Shelter.
What a property might need to have in place
Despite this definition however, the nature and severity of individual disabilities can certainly be quite varied. Consequently, what needs to be in place within a property can be quite varied too.
If you’re a landlord in the PRS who’s considering providing housing for disabled tenants or, indeed, the circumstances of your current tenants has changed, then you may have to make a number of alterations.
According to a spokesperson from leading accessibility advice and information website ABLEize, some of the main features to offer independent living in a rental property might include:
• Level and solid approaches up to the property to allow access
• Another level or ramped approach to the main entrance
• Door widths of 750mm plus to accommodate wheelchairs
• Switches and handles for controls to be at a height between 750mm and 1200mm
• Ground floor bedrooms, lounges, kitchens and wet rooms with DDA compliant toilets, showers and washing facilities installed
It’s not just physical and structural changes that need to be made, extra ‘auxiliary aids and services’ may be needed to ensure disabled tenants aren’t disadvantaged in any way. Citizens Advice details some suggestions such as:
• Providing a copy of your tenancy agreement in an accessible format like a CD, if the tenant’s visually impaired or has a learning disability
• Changing a term of a tenancy agreement. For example, a term saying pets aren’t allowed in the property could be changed to allow a disabled person to have an assistance dog.
Again, you can find more useful examples of other extra aids here, courtesy of Shelter.
Covering the cost of making changes
In another, more recent study from Leonard Cheshire Disability ‘The Long Wait for a Home’, which looked at how long some disabled residents were waiting for improvements to be made to their homes, they estimated the costs involved with some of the above jobs.
They calculated the expenditure of comprehensively adapting a standard home ‘could be more than £20,000’ and broke these down individually in this table:
Cost of adaptation in a standard home
Landlords have the simple option to finance these themselves. To help cover the costs though, a disabled tenant – or indeed a landlord with a disabled tenant – can apply for what’s known as a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
A DFG is essentially funding from the local council to subsidise any changes that need to be made to a property. Each application is subject to an eligibility test to assess whether the work is appropriate and can be completed. The details surrounding how to make a claim can be found on GOV.uk.
Whatever the total cost, as a landlord it’s imperative this is completed properly, if you’re renting to someone with a disability. Otherwise you could face substantial legal costs should you fail to provide the right facilities for disabled living. Going back to the above report, their findings also showed that ‘62% - nearly two thirds’ of councils were breaking the law by not funding the agreed adaptations to their properties within set deadlines; ultimately failing to meet disability housing requirements.
Transparency from the beginning
To make the above run smoothly, have complete clarity - from the beginning of the tenancy or application process - regarding the nature of the tenant’s disabilities. This way, whatever work needs doing can be considered and completed much more efficiently before the tenancy starts.
On top of this, an appropriate tenancy agreement that caters to the needs of the tenant can be drawn up as well, or agreed with any external parties who might be in charge of their finances -thus avoiding complications at a later stage.
Alternatively, landlords can aim to let to a certain demographic and alter their houses and flats accordingly. People looking for accessible housing can, of course, search for suitable rental properties in the PRS - from websites like Accessible Property and The House Shop, which list private rentals specifically for the disabled.