Updated on 02.01.16

Home Ownership For People With Disabilities

Owning a home is the cornerstone of the American dream, yet far too few families get to enjoy this privilege. This is especially true of individuals with physical and emotional disabilities who may lack the resources needed to purchase or finance a home on their own.

The federal government offers additional help and assistance for people with disabilities who wish to achieve home ownership. This assistance includes a list of rights you deserve as a new home buyer. These rights will help you achieve equal protection under the law, and ensure you are getting the best counsel and loan terms possible.

This article aims to help you understand your rights and guide you toward additional resources that can make homeownership more attainable and the process easier to understand. With the right tools and knowledge, anyone can transition into their ideal housing situation.

Rights for Disabled Homeowners

Under federal law, “any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment” may be considered disabled. This is a fairly broad description, which may be exactly what was intended. After all, disabilities range from emotional to physical with various symptoms that affect everyday life.

any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment may be considered disabled

Regardless of whether you live in public or private housing, federal law affords you the following rights as a person with disabilities:

Protection from discrimination: Under federal law, landlords and homeowners cannot refuse to rent or sell to a person with a disability based solely on their disabled status. Further, housing providers cannot impose a different set of rules or conditions on a person with a disability in order to disqualify them as a tenant or buyer.

Access to equal opportunity in housing: People with disabilities may request reasonable changes in rules, policies, practices, and services so they are able to access, use, and enjoy equal access to housing. Landlords and housing providers should accommodate reasonable requests to assist at all stages of the housing process, from the first application to full tenancy. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development, however: “A housing provider should do everything s/he can to assist, but s/he is not required to make changes that would fundamentally alter the program or create an undue financial and administrative burden.”

Modification for disabled persons: If a home or rental unit is not accessible, people with disabilities have the right to ask for reasonable structural modifications that will help them achieve full access and enjoyment of the property. Examples include adding an access ramp, installing grab bars in the bathroom, or making additional upgrades or changes that make accessing the home easier for someone with a physical disability.

These changes are often made at the expense of the resident, but there are resources available that can help with modifications if the home provider or tenant are unable to afford them. See the Reasonable Accommodations section of HUD’s Section 504 Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.

Accessibility in certain types of rental units: Under rules governed by the Fair Housing Act, covered multifamily housing with four or more units and an elevator built after March 13, 1991 must comply with the following requirements:

  • Accessible entrance on an accessible route
  • Accessible public and common-use areas
  • Usable doors
  • Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
  • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and environmental controls
  • Reinforced walls in bathrooms
  • Usable kitchens and bathrooms

Federal assisted multifamily housing with five or more units must convert at least 5% of their units (with a minimum of one unit) to meet more stringent requirements for physical accessibility. Additionally, 2% of the building (with a minimum of one unit) must meet requirements for persons with visual or hearing impairments.

As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notes, additional regulations exist to protect the rights of home buyers and homeowners – including individuals with physical or emotional disabilities. These regulations include, but are not limited to, rules that prevent governing bodies from modifying or using zoning and land use policies to prevent people from disabilities from relocating to their area, as well as rules that grant disabled persons access to federal financial assistance they would qualify for otherwise.

People with disabilities may also rely on the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), which was created to protect the rights of all homebuyers and individuals seeking housing, including individuals with physical and emotional disabilities. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has offered Regulation B, a program designed to support the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, as noted by the federal government, provides that its purpose is to require financial institutions and other firms engaged in the extension of credit to make credit equally available to all creditworthy customers without regard to sex or marital status.”

Further, governing bodies have made it unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction (1) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract); (2) because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program; or (3) because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.”

In summary, home providers cannot discriminate against you based on your disabled status, nor can they discriminate against you if any part of your income derives from any public assistance program, including SSDI/SDI.

Rights for Borrowers With Disabilities

Most people – disabled or not – can’t afford to purchase a home outright, and must borrow a large percentage of the needed funds. Most of the time, that money is borrowed from a mortgage lender, bank, or credit union after an initial down payment is made.

Applying for a mortgage is much the same whether or not you have a physical or emotional disability. When you apply for a loan, the lender will run a credit check and verify your income to determine your eligibility, decide how much you are eligible to borrow, and assist you with the full application process.

As a homebuyer with a disability, you qualify for certain inalienable rights that can help with the mortgage process. For example:

  • Lenders cannot discourage you from applying for a loan based on your disabled status, nor can they treat your loan differently than they would otherwise. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act forbids credit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or whether you receive income from a public assistance program. Creditors may ask you for most of this information in certain situations, but they may not use it as a reason to deny you credit or to set the terms of your credit.”
  • Lenders cannot deny you access to financial assistance programs that make housing more affordable based on your disabled status. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 504 provides that no qualified individual with a disability should, only by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
  • Lenders cannot treat income from public assistance any differently than they would normal income. Lenders have the right to request proof of income from the Social Security Administration, but they cannot use it as a basis for discrimination. The Fair Housing Act protects all individuals and families from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or applying for a mortgage for any type of housing or dwelling. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children.”

Programs that Can Help Home Buyers With Disabilities

People with disabilities need access to affordable and safe housing, which is why several programs exist to offer financial and technical assistance throughout the process. The following programs can help individuals with disabilities achieve the dream of home ownership – once and for all:

Homeownership Voucher Program

HUD offers a Homeownership Voucher Program that can make owning a home more affordable. This program exists to subsidize monthly mortgage or rent payments for low-income and disabled individuals. Eligible applicants must meet certain income or disability requirements, be first-time homeowners or cooperative members, and agree to attend homeownership counseling sessions as prescribed by the local public housing authority, or PHA. HUD counselors in your state can help you apply for this program, or guide you toward other programs that might meet your needs.

Supplemental Security Income

The Social Security Administration offers supplemental security income to certain individuals with disabilities. This program was designed to help aged, blind, and disabled persons who have little to no income pay for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. This benefit eligibility screening tool can help you determine if you qualify.

Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae offers a wide range of loan options for low and medium-income borrowers through their MyCommunityMortgage program. Benefits include eased guidelines regarding down payment funds, low down payment programs, and lower debt-to-income requirements.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity is another option for people with disabilities who are unable or struggling to afford proper housing for themselves and their families. Visit Habitat.org for information about the application process as well as local resources that can help you determine if you’re likely to qualify.

Homes for Our Troops

Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit agency dedicated to purchasing or building mortgage-free homes for veterans who were injured in combat after Sept. 11, 2001. Eligible veterans must have been injured overseas in an act of combat, be retired or in the midst of the retirement process, and be able to pass a criminal and credit background check.

Federal Programs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

If you’re a veteran, you may be eligible for federal housing assistance through one of two grant programs. Specially Adapted Housing Grants (SAH) and Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grants are available to veterans with certain disabilities who meet specific income guidelines. Both programs offer awards that are adjusted upward annually based on a cost-of-construction index. The maximum award in the fiscal year 2016 is $73,768.

United States Department of Agriculture

The USDA offers financial assistance for elderly, disabled, and low-income rural residents in multi-unit housing complexes. This program ensures these individuals can make their rent payments, and helps keep them in safe and affordable housing for the duration of their lives. Certain income requirements apply. The USDA recommends contacting a USDA representative in your area as your first step in the application process.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA)

The FHA was created to help everyday Americans secure affordable housing. FHA loans are insured by the federal government, and are often less expensive and less risky for the homebuyer.

Resources by State

Although some homeownership programs for the disabled are available nationally, each state offers additional resources for those who qualify. The map below can help you locate the state agency in charge of assisting people with disabilities in their journey toward homeownership:

Mortgage Calculator

If you’re interested in figuring out what your new home payment might look like, our mortgage calculator can help. To get an estimate of your monthly payment, input the type of loan you hope to have along with an estimate of how much you want to spend, your down payment, and other relevant details.

Additional Resources:

About this resource:

Created on: January 21, 2016

Updated on: February 01, 2016

Edited by: Jon Gorey

Research by: Holly Johnson