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Is PTSD a valid reason for a tenant to break a lease?

Apartment rents
Under federal and state fair housing laws, people with physical or mental impairments that limit a major life activity are entitled to request reasonable accommodations from landlords.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Question: I am a landlord. A resident at one of my complexes asked to break his lease early because he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said that after returning from a military tour overseas, he is unable to sleep or focus on normal daily tasks because the complex’s proximity to railroad tracks and a local interstate triggers severe anxiety. He offered to provide a doctor’s note explaining that he needs to be able to leave the property for his mental health. He always pays his rent on time and never has any problems with other tenants, and I hate to lose him as a tenant. Do I have to let him break his lease?

Answer: Yes, this tenant is mostly likely entitled to a reasonable accommodation for early termination of his lease. Both the federal Fair Housing Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act provide that people with physical or mental impairments that limit a major life activity are entitled to request reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are changes to a housing provider’s policies, practices or procedures that are necessary to allow a disabled person the opportunity to fully use and enjoy his home. To show that an accommodation is necessary, a tenant must show how the requested accommodation will mitigate the effects of his disability.

Your tenant demonstrated he suffers from a mental impairment that limits his ability to sleep and complete normal daily tasks. Based on what your tenant told you, he is disabled and his request to vacate the unit without penalty is reasonably related to his need to mitigate exposure to experiences that trigger his PTSD.

The law requires that a housing provider engage in an interactive process to reach a reasonable accommodation for a disabled tenant. If your tenant’s disability is not apparent, you may be entitled to request verification from a knowledgeable third party, such as a medical provider, that your tenant is disabled and that as a result of that disability he needs to break his lease. Although no landlord likes to see a good tenant leave, once you receive the required documentation from your tenant’s knowledgeable third party, you should promptly grant the accommodation and let him out of his lease without penalty.

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Please note, every case is unique. For more information about fair housing laws, contact Project Sentinel or your local fair housing agency.

Current is fair housing director for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. For more information, contact Project Sentinel at 1-888-324-7468, info@housing.org, visit www.housing.org or contact your attorney or local housing agency.


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