Asking for a reasonable housing accommodation
April 6, 2016 2:47 PM   Subscribe

My mental and physical illnesses severely interfere with my ability to keep up with housework. This has been a big problem with landlords in the past. In another thread, someone here suggested asking for a reasonable accommodation of hiring someone to clean on a regular basis. I’d like to do that, but I don’t know at what point I ask for that accommodation or how I ask. I’ve included some specific questions inside.

Is it better to bring this up before they’ve checked references or after, assuming they’ll hear about my mess? If before, do I include this with my application?
I imagine I put my request in writing—is there certain language to use?
If they agree, do I need to get anything in writing from them?
Is there a general attitude I should go in with concerning this? I’m hoping to present it as a win-win that will therefore make me a desirable tenant.

Anything else to know?
posted by mermaidcafe to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you thinking of asking your landlord to pay for that accommodation? If so, you have no basis. The Fair Housing Act does not require landlords to pay for your requested accommodation if the cost is non-trivial. You can think of the Fair Housing Act as saying, "if there's something that the landlord can change with little/no impact to them that allows you to live where you want, the landlord has to do it". It doesn't require them to pay for said change if the cost is a burden. I'd find it hard to believe that the cost of a cleaning service is not such a burden.

If you are willing to pay for this, I don't even know why you want to call it an accommodation - it's just a maid service just like any others that people pay for.
posted by saeculorum at 2:53 PM on April 6, 2016 [35 favorites]

Will you be offering to pay an increased share of the rent in return for this additional cost that you expect the landlord to bear? If so, then why not just keep the money and hire your own maid?
posted by sparklemotion at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Enough (correctly) said about not being able to require a landlord to pay for your housecleaner.

HOWEVER, a landlord would not be entitled to enforce an artificially high or merely superficial housekeeping standard against you if you can't meet it due to qualifying disabilities. In other words your mess needs to be attracting vermin, creating bad smells bothering people outside your apartment, or otherwise threatening health, safety or your neighbors' contractual entitlement to a decent place to live. Mess that just bothers a neat person, nope.

And you are also entitled to helpful accommodations that aren't a material expense -- not sure what those might be, but don't hesitate to ask.
posted by MattD at 3:03 PM on April 6, 2016 [17 favorites]

Oh -- and if you are willing to pay for it, they have to make it possible. I.E. if they had a security policy that kept the maid from coming while you were away at work, they'd have to figure out a reasonable way to relax that.
posted by MattD at 3:05 PM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

If your housework challenges have been such an issue in the past that you: believe it will impact the references from past landlords and you have an actual, realistic plan that you believe will stop the problem from occurring in your new housing, then it might make sense to write a letter to that effect and provide it with your rental application. E.g. "due to a disability, housework has been a challenge in past living situations. I have engaged Super Cleaning Service to provide monthly housecleaning services as of X date, and I believe that this will prevent this from being a problem in my new unit".

A landlord would not, as has been pointed out, be required to pay for this service for you. See #6 and #7 here-- #7 specifically outlines a scenario where a person requests an accommodation that is not reasonable due to cost issues.
posted by Kpele at 3:08 PM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

You may need to or want to ask for an accommodation to override a screening denial based on poor rental references due to this issue. But you would need to show why your poor housekeeping would no longer be an issue going forward. (Just like we would overturn the denial as an accommodation for someone with a criminal record who has mitigated that by talking classes, attending drug treatment, getting a letter from their parole officer etc.)

There may be help for your cleaning issues through your aging and disability agency or local nonprofits. I would look into that too.
posted by vespabelle at 3:08 PM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

To me this is all going to depend on the nature of your housing situation.

If you're a solo person renting an apartment from a building owner or management company, just make sure to factor in the cost of a cleaning person. As stated above, your landlord is not required to and probably would not choose to provide this for you as a free perk of living on the premises. (I mean, you have to pay the gas bill, so you probably also have to pay your own cleaning service.)

If this is a stopgap to assure a potential landlord that severe cleaning/maintenance issues you had in the past will no longer be an issue because you will be hiring a cleaning service, I'd include a note in writing with the application and maybe provide some information that at least implies that you will really be doing this. For example if you're already doing this in your current space, mention the company you use and some details of your arrangement with them.

If you're renting a room in someone's house or entering into a share, you should ask when you meet them to look at the place and chat to see if it would be a good fit. I'd probably bring it up verbally, something like, "To be honest, I'm not the best at housework, especially because of my medical conditions. Would you be up for hiring a cleaning person? I'd be happy to take on $x or y% of the cost." And then you kind of have to see whether that's something they'd be into splitting with you, or even something they're open to at all.
posted by Sara C. at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's very common in hot rental markets now to provide a cover letter explaining why you're the best applicant. When you do that, you can include a bit about how you use a cleaning service X times a week/month because you have limited mobility (I'd leave it that vague).

Leave it at that. If you really can't provide enough references that won't mention your past cleanliness problems (I haven't lived in corporate-managed housing in many years, and I just flat out say "I will give you my mother's phone number if you want to talk to her, and my boss and 3 closest friends too, but I can't tell my current landlord I'm moving or he'll retaliate, and I am not in contact with previous ones, sorry."), and it comes back to you, you just say, "Yes, because of my disability it was a problem, that's why I'll be using a service, and you can put that in the lease if you want." Treat it like a handled issue.

Basically, the burden of keeping the occupied premises clean is on you. How you get it done is your choice. If you're moving into a shared space, it's best to negotiate a clear and specific housework arrangement whether you'll be doing the work yourself or outsourcing it (but maybe especially so in that case because it's weird and probably going to come off as hostile if you hire a cleaning service to come in and vacuum half the living room or only wash your dishes), but you can't obligate a landlord or roommate to pay for it because it wasn't their work to do in the first place.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:32 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

a landlord would not be entitled to enforce an artificially high or merely superficial housekeeping standard against you if you can't meet it due to qualifying disabilities

When the potential landlord is talking to references, there's nothing preventing him/her from rejecting OP based on reports from prior landlords of messiness, even if that messiness didn't rise to the level of squalor.

Fortunately, if OP is planning to live by him/herself, assuming he/she survives the references stage, it's unlikely that anything short of an actually unhygienic or unsafe mess would even come to a new landlord's attention.
posted by praemunire at 4:17 PM on April 6, 2016

Have you looked into whether your health insurance would cover the cost of a personal care assistant?
posted by fox problems at 5:08 PM on April 6, 2016

Thanks all.

It didn't even occur to me that people would think I expected my landlord to pay and that would be an issue. I AM PREPARED TO PAY FOR A HOUSEKEEPING SERVICE, AND I DO NOT EXPECT A LANDLORD TO PAY, AND THAT IS NOT THE FOCUS OF MY QUESTION, THANK YOU. :)

Re how this would be different than a maid service if I'm paying, it's different because it shows that I am making an effort to maintain a higher standard. It cues the landlord in and then if they want to check in at any point to confirm the housekeeping appointments are happening, that's an option. The ideal scenario here is that it helps put my past in my past and shows that there are solutions to longstanding problems that have accompanied my disability.

Unfortunately, my healthcare (Medicare) doesn't cover that.

In my previous city, I tried everything to find an agency that helped people like me. Neither I nor the County Mental Health Center could find anything. I think there are sometimes options for elderly folks or people who have a lot of mobility issues. But if you're young and mobile, it's much harder to find help. That said, I do hope the new city has more options.
posted by mermaidcafe at 5:21 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your landlord is unlikely to want to get involved in arranging a housekeeping service, even if you pay for it.
posted by grouse at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2016

Thanks for the update. I think you're getting the answers you are getting because you used the term "reasonable accommodation." Under the relevant law, a reasonable accommodation is something that the landlord or their agent provides in order to accommodate a tenant with disabilities—such as the examples in the link that Kpele provided. So when you write about asking for a "reasonable accommodation of hiring someone to clean on a regular basis," we are primed to think that it is the landlord who would do the hiring, and pay for the cleaner.

If you are planning to hire a cleaner yourself, that's not an accommodation; it's your own solution to a problem that you recognize. You might want to frame the issue proactively: state that due to a disability you plan to hire a cleaner, and ask prospective landlords whether they could recommend a cleaner or cleaning service. Now, it has been quite a while since I last rented, but I have a relative who is a landlord, and I know that he would be delighted to learn that a prospective tenant planned to hire a regular cleaner and would be happy to recommend someone. I'm not saying you should pursue the recommendation, though, since you would want to check references carefully—still, if your landlord recommended a cleaner, and you hired that cleaner, it would be awkward if they then complained about the cleaner's work.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:03 PM on April 6, 2016 [12 favorites]

If this is an issue that will come up if your potential landlord calls past references, definitely mention it when you give them the reference information so that they have the full context. I agree that this matters more if you're the lease-holder (vs a subletter renting in a shared apartment). "Just to let you know - while I was adjusting to some health issues, I let some housekeeping get out of hand, so I'm planning to have a maid come in on a bi-weekly basis. Do you have any concerns with giving access to a maid, or any recommendations?"
posted by samthemander at 7:27 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I agree that the phrase "reasonable accommodation" is misleading for your purposes. You're essentially trying to give context to a past situation, but reasonable accommodation implies asking for different standards in your next situation.
posted by samthemander at 7:30 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you have a history of messing places up significantly enough that it will turn up on a background check -- which I assume means damage to the property or neighbors complaining? or were you actually brought to court? -- you probably don't want to point this out to your prospective landlord. Your landlord is under no obligation to rent to somebody who is a demonstrable liability. If this is really going to stand out in your background check, then your best hope is for your new landlord to be sloppy with their background check or just not care or forget to do the background check. Have a check ready to go with the security deposit, get the lease, then hire whatever cleaning staff you need to keep your place in reasonable condition. Don't start off the already arduous task of finding an apartment by incriminating yourself in the eyes of your landlord.
posted by deathpanels at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2016

If I understand correctly, the issue is that you're concerned that former landlords will give you a bad reference. Honestly I wouldn't worry about it. Many landlords (usually smaller ones) don't bother to check refs. Last one we had, we said we had been living with family (which was true) and that was good enough.
posted by radioamy at 8:11 PM on April 6, 2016

Landlords universally give good references to tenants they disliked so that they become someone else's problem. I feel like you don't know how this works. Only an eviction on your credit will really flag you as a bad tenant, or just bad credit, generally. Maybe if your rent was late often, that might get mentioned.

Knowing that landlords lie, I sometimes never called references. I just went by credit checks.

You should get a cleaner for your own benefit!

I know of a tenant in CA that had reimbursement for weekly cleaning services. Medi-cal, maybe? You might be eligible for reimbursement and you should look into this.
posted by jbenben at 11:40 PM on April 6, 2016

Medi-Cal/Medicaid often covers in-home support services, which can help with cleaning. Medicare, which the poster has said she has, does not.

I agree that asking for recommendations for a cleaning service would be a good way of putting the idea out there without making it a big-deal red flag if it doesn't need to be.
posted by lazuli at 6:58 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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