Blind World Magazine

United Kingdom.
Landlords: Get clued up on disability.

July 21, 2005.
icTeesside, UK.

Landlords need to be up-to-date to avoid falling foul of the latest law covering discrimination against disabled people.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005, (DDA) that received Royal Assent in April, makes it compulsory for landlords and agents to make any reasonable changes to premises or policies to accommodate disabled tenants.

The DDA sets out new duties for those letting and managing residential and commercial premises.

This is the first legislation since the 1995 Act to have a significant impact on the UK property market.

Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which became law last October, caught many landlords on the hop. Some have still not come to terms with what the DDA requires of them.

On the other hand, disabled people are well aware of their new legal rights and justifiably diligent in enforcing them if they need to. Landlords would do well to be equally clued up.

Under the 2005 Act a landlord will not be able to unreasonably withhold consent should a disabled tenant wish to make a disability-related alteration to the property. The duty also extends to lawful occupiers of the property. This right overrides any prohibition on alterations in the lease, but does not extend to common areas in the premises. Managing agents will owe a similar duty to disabled tenants and occupiers.

Where a property is being let, similar duties are owed to the potential tenant, so it might for example be necessary to provide a copy of the draft lease in Braille or large type. The 2005 Act covers private premises and local authorities. It imposes a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity for the disabled. This will extend to applications for planning permission and building control.

Agents will need to make "reasonable" changes to any policy, practice or procedure that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to take a letting. These include property particulars, which should be readable for blind as well as sighted people and websites that have to be navigable for disabled as well as able-bodied people.

The new provisions will require landlords or managers to take reasonable steps to change a policy, practice or procedure that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled tenant to use premises.For example, a tenant with mobility difficulties would need to be allowed to leave rubbish in another place if he or she cannot access the designated place.

Landlords will have to address communication and access arrangements with disabled tenants. Rent books and letters about the property have to be readable by blind tenants. Wheelchair users have to be able to use doors that permit access, even though other tenants may use them.

The Act will also require landlords or managing agents to provide auxiliary aids, such as an entry phone, or a clip-on receiver (which vibrates when the door bell rings) for a tenant with a hearing impairment.

Charging for the aids could be added to the service charge bill and shared by all tenants. The landlord will not be able to charge the disabled tenant direct.

If there is an absolute prohibition on alterations, a landlord may have to modify or waive a term of the letting to allow a disabled tenant (at his own expense) to make alterations needed because of the disability.

The 2005 Act extends the meaning of "disability" so that mental illness no longer has to be "clinically well recognised" and people with cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis are now deemed to be disabled from the date of diagnosis.

Most landlords and service providers will find that the adjustments they made under Part III of the 1995 Act will be sufficient to deal with any physical symptoms of these progressive conditions.

Richard Freeman-Wallace is head of property at Watson Burton LLP.

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