Question: I was severely injured in a car accident. As a result, I am in a lot of pain and unable to work. Social Security accepted my claim, and I now receive monthly disability payments. Unfortunately, this is my only income, and I am on a very tight budget. I recently began looking for a cheaper rental unit but have encountered a problem. Most property owners require tenants to earn at least three times the monthly rent. Because of my inability to work due to my disability, there is no way I can meet this standard. I've asked a few owners if my mother, who is much better off financially, could co-sign for me, but they've all said that they have a policy against co-signers. I'm afraid I'm not going to find a new apartment. Am I entitled to a co-signer? Is there anything I can do?
Answer: Both federal and state fair housing laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. As part of this prohibition, housing providers are required to grant prospective and in-place tenants reasonable accommodations when requested. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a reasonable accommodation is a change to a policy, practice or service that is necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
Based on your situation, it appears that the only reason you do not meet the minimum income requirement is because you are disabled and limited to your Social Security disability income.
Although the housing provider does not have to waive his minimum income requirement, you can ask him to waive his co-signer policy for you as a reasonable accommodation. This is because your disability is directly tied to your income level. Waiving the co-signer policy would therefore give you equal access to the apartment of your choice.
Having a co-signer provides assurance to the landlord that you will be able to pay the rent, which is the housing provider's fundamental reason for having a minimum income requirement.
Please note that the housing provider can place the same requirements on your co-signer that he would if she were an actual prospective tenant. This means that you and your co-signer must jointly meet the owner's income requirement and that you may both need to undergo a credit check. The property owner has no obligation to accept a financially unstable co-signer.
Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.