Modifications for house
August 23, 2012 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Modifications to house to walker/wheelchair...

I am the owner of a house which I rent out. The tenant was recently severely injured in a work-related accident. The tenant is returning to the house soon, having lived in an extended care facility for a couple months. She will be using a walker and/or wheelchair. Modifications need to be made to the house in order for her to live there. She has been a good tenant and is a good person and I would like to accommodate her needs, but of course don't want to lose out financially with this. I have received a document from a physical therapist (or maybe occupational) who toured the house and came of with the list of necessary modifications. The modifications would be paid for by her insurance.

What advice can you give?

The house is in the state of Colorado (United States) in case that is of significance.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand what advice you're asking for. If the modifications are necessary and her insurance is paying for them, how are you losing out? Things like ramps, wider doorways and grab bars in the shower do not lower the rental income or value of your property. Are they asking to replace kitchen units with wheelchair counters?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2012

Is there something I'm missing? I mean, these are modifications your valued tenant needs, plus the cost wouldn't be coming out of your pocket, with the costs covered by the insurance agency.

If you're worried about what will happen later on, when/if Tenant is no longer living there, just make sure to get it in writing that the changes are permanent, and the grab bars, ramps and other installations now belong to you. All in all, it seems like you've got a win-win situation here: you get these modifications for free, plus you've now got a house that can be easily rented to future walker/wheelchair users (and that's got to be a limited rental AND sale market; most accessible properties are apartments, not houses), PLUS you have a place you yourself could move into if you ever needed that access.
posted by easily confused at 8:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi. I'm an ADA Specialist and my job is working, every single day, with home modifications. Please feel free to message me or post more info here if I miss something. There's a teensy chance that I'll miss something Colorado specific, but I'll give you the general rules.

First, you are explicitly required to allow the modifications, unless you can claim that they would interrupt the historical significance of the structure, which is about 500x more difficult than people seem to think. Second, if you desire, the tenant will have to remove any modifications upon his or her exit from the property, i.e., when they move out. At their expense.

You may NOT increase the rent as a result of now having an "accessible" property, and you SHOULD get the insurance company to give you documentation both absolving you from liability for installed materials AND granting you ownership upon her exit if she does not choose to take them with her and you do not insist that she removes them. You will be expected to continue routine property maintenance on those items, even if she lives there forever and ever.

Also, "easily confused" is incorrect. You cannot demand that the items are yours upon her exit, as according to the word of the law, she can (and/or should) remove them upon departure. You can request it ahead of time (as per my previous comment), but you can't just say they're yours.

And, lastly, a PT is a poor choice for home mod evaluations---just personal opinion and completely not cogent to this conversation.
posted by TomMelee at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you mean long term, like in the future after she leaves, a lot of handicap accessible modifications are simply more user friendly for anyone. Wider doorways are not going to be a problem for future tenants. You might want to put in your 2 cents worth in terms of making this style conscious. There is absolutely no reason that easier to use facilities need to be ugly. That would be my only real concern.

As a handicapped person who is style conscious, it annoys the shit out of me that so many handicapped accessible modifications are so ugly, and unnecessarily so. It strikes me as a kind of cultural Freudian slip, not dissimilar from the American tendency to make large size women's clothing incredibly unattractive, as if putting on a few pounds magically performs a lobotomy on that part of my brain that had good taste when I was thin and now I am supposed to just be grateful to not be naked, and never mind how ugly it looks.

So, similarly, while function is more critical to a handicapped person, having a handicap does not make a person suddenly have no taste or appreciation for style. If the modifications are done well, future tenants may not be very aware this is specifically a handicapped accessible house. They may just see it as attractive and surprisingly easy to use.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

My husband is in a chair and I can DEFINITELY say that accessible rentals (especially houses!) are difficult to find and highly valuable in our rental market. And, if you really don't desire it, most modifications like small outdoor ramps and handles can be removed later on without too much fuss. The biggest permanent change is probably widening doors and handling any interior stairs.
posted by ninjakins at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2012

The only advise I can offer is if you need a ramp see if they will install a lift instead. Ramps take up huge amounts of space, and can encroach on lawns, walkways, and driveways.
posted by Gungho at 11:24 AM on August 23, 2012

she can (and/or should) remove them upon departure

TomMelee, do you mean that the tenant would have to do things like remove concrete ramps and have widened doorways rebuilt to the original width?
posted by yohko at 4:48 PM on August 23, 2012

Two comments:

Gungho is correct wrt ramp length, HOWEVER depending on your local code, you do not necessarily *have* to follow ADA specs on a private residence. We recommend it because it is a known safe standard. External platform lifts require significant outdoor power access, generally a concrete pad, are susceptible to vandalism and children, often require a key, and require annual maintenance. They also start around $3.5k for a 20" lift, I have spent as much as $15k on a lift that went 8 vertical feet. They also do not necessarily deliver a person to a sidewalk, or at least to an accessible pathway.

Theoretically yes, a property owner can demand that a property be returned to its original condition. This is why you almost NEVER see concrete ramps installed by tenants, opting instead for the more modular (and similarly expensive) metal ones instead, or traditional wood. I've never actually heard of a property owner wanting doorways re-narrowed, but theoretically they could insist upon it. Normally you see this with things like electric door openers, threshold ramps, walkway-covers, and ramps that cover primary design elements or landscaping. This is also why one of my favorite parts of my job is helping people sue the shit out of discriminatory landlords. Further, the landlord cannot demand ownership of non-permanently-attached modifications, such as metal ramps, door openers, etc, as the person may take them to the next home.

More to the point, Fair Housing Guideline exist even where there is NO residential code---that's every parish and county, every city in every state of the union. The FHG require, for example, that in structures with 4 or more units, that at least 1 unit (and then a ratio after 4) be "accessible." This doesn't apply to the current question, but in apartment buildings generally there should already be a permanent outdoor accessibility feature provided by the owner; Ramp, elevator, etc., that would provide access to the building interior even if the tenant was not in an explicitly "accessible" unit.
posted by TomMelee at 8:38 AM on August 24, 2012

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