The ping-pong match that ensues when a tenant claims disability and that they are entitled to a "reasonable accommodation"

We've addressed the topic of fair housing laws so many times, we'll spare you the alphabet soup of laws surrounding them. Suffice it to say that when a tenant is disabled, he or she will commonly ask their landlord to make a reasonable accommodation when there is a risk of displacement.

Take, for instance, a gentleman who was served an eviction notice and began to move out, only to get injured when attempting to move his belongings. He fell down the stairs and claimed that due to the injury, he was unable to vacate on the agreed-upon date.

Or, an elderly woman who also was in the process of vacating the premises until her ulcers became infected, After this medical condition, she purportedly became debilitated, and in light of this, her attorney asserted that the tenant should be afforded more time to find alternative housing.

Another classic example is when there is a hoarding condition in the rental unit and the tenant asserts a mental illness that triggers fair housing laws. We are always concerned that this type of behavior has a high recidivism rate, but we normally have to take reasonable steps to address the professed illness, such as referring the hoarding tenant to professionals who can assist.

IN-DEPTH: Read our resource on hoarding in rental units »

Still other tenants will shout or sing at all hours of the night, interfering with the quiet enjoyment of other residents, and, short of an imminent threat, we may want to relocate them to another unit away from slumbering neighbors or take measures to mitigate noise.

Requests for accommodations can come in many forms, but the cycle goes something like this:


After an eviction action is filed, the tenant claims a disability. 

Aided by free legal representation for the tenant, an attorney will request an accommodation. As if we need to be educated on fair housing laws, the email and letter will cite numerous laws and cases to argue that a reasonable accommodation must be made.

The correspondence will detail hardships in vivid detail and these accounts are hard for judges and juries to ignore. A spouse passing away, for example. These sorts of circumstances tug at the heartstrings and so we are often compelled to carefully hear out the demands of tenants or their counsel.


Continuation of the case.

The case is elongated, as the property owner must respond to the accommodation request by engaging in some sort of dialogue with the tenant, short of dismissing the case.

At this point, we won't put an end to the lawsuit but instead, engage with the tenant (or more likely their attorney) to come up with an amicable solution.


A settlement is reached.

This may include any number of things, such as a rent waiver, more time to find alternative housing, a return of the security deposit, etc., if not a cash payout to the tenant taking into consideration local rules surrounding tenant surrender of possession agreements, aka "tenant buyout agreements."

This is where Bornstein Law excels. We approach all landlord-tenant relationships with compassion as well as from an economic and business perspective. We are good at brokering deals.


Tenant does not fulfill their part of the bargain.

Despite coming to an understanding, the tenant breaches the agreement. He or she does not comply and is now in breach of the negotiated settlement. Nonpayment of rent or other aberrant behavior is not cured.

With the assistance of our office, the landlord can resume the eviction action, showing that despite the tenant being given a second chance and receiving reasonable accommodations, the tenant has failed to uphold their end of the bargain. The tenant has squandered the opportunity to fix the underlying issue.


The troublesome tenant breaches the settlement and requests yet another accommodation or refuses to vacate. 

This becomes a vicious cycle as the tenant refuses to leave and/or reverts back to the original nuisance behavior. Not uncommonly, there will be an additional round of unreasonable demands when the tenant pleads with the landlord to make further accommodations. In some instances, we will capitulate and in others, we will not be flexible. It's on a case-by-case basis.


When it comes to handling requests for reasonable accommodations, the operative term is "reasonable." With proper legal counsel, housing providers can draw a line where reasonable begins and ends.

Bornstein Law can articulate that the housing provider has made every effort to treat the tenant fairly but that the tenant with the professed disability has not sought a reasonable accommodation.

There is often a dispute as to what can (or cannot) be accommodated, and this conflict is best journeyed with a law firm that manages landlord-tenant relationships on a daily basis.

Remember, a direct threat to the owner’s safety or the safety of others is something that cannot be accommodated, as we explained in a webinar on handling crime and violence in and around rental units.



Having practiced landlord-tenant law for the better part of three decades, we have a good feel for what is a reasonable accommodation and what strikes us as bad faith on the part of the tenant.