Frequently asked questions about accessible parking law, state laws, and your rights. Click to expand the answer.
Some residences are required to make a certain portion of their parking accessible to people with disabilities. The law also protects disabled tenants who are still having accessibility problems, even when their building is meeting its legal obligation.
If no accessible spaces are required, or if the required spaces aren’t enough, a landlord may have to modify the parking lot or parking rules to provide a space that is accessible for a disabled tenant.
There are a lot of different laws that determine what property owners or managers must provide for tenants with disabilities. Some rules only apply to newer buildings, to larger buildings, to government buildings, and some states add their own laws on top of the federal government’s.
Even though the underlying legal picture might be complicated, the process for asserting your rights is usually simple.
Not all residential buildings are required to provide accessible parking. The Fair Housing Act’s Design and Constructions Guidelines state that at least 2% of parking spaces must be accessible, but these requirements only apply if all the following are true:
- The building has at least some parking spaces. There is no accessible parking requirement if a building does not provide any parking.
- The building has four or more residencies in it
- The building’s first residents moved in after March 13, 1991.
The Fair Housing Act applies to privately owned property as well as government housing. It does not require any of the spaces to be van-accessible, but it does have accessible design requirements for many other parts of the building’s exterior and interior.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that a certain number of parking spaces be accessible to people with disabilities, and that one of every six accessible spaces be van accessible.
The ADA applies to public housing and “places of public accommodation,” like shopping malls or other commercial facilities that are open to the public. These rules will not apply to many private residences. The ADA’s parking requirements apply to a residence if:
- Your building is owned or operated or was built in part with funding from the federal, state, or local government, or;
- The property includes a “place of public accommodation.” A common example is the leasing office of an apartment complex.
In the latter case, the ADA’s parking requirements will only apply to that part of the parking lot that is for the place of public accommodation.
If your building does not have the accessible parking it should, you can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. For more information on filing complaints, see below.
Your landlord may have to install more accessible spots. There are exceptions, though.
Whether or not the parking requirements discussed in the Fair Housing Act’s Design and Construction requirements apply in your case, its prohibitions against discrimination apply in almost all housing situations, including single-family homes and buildings that were occupied before 1991. The main exception is for buildings that contain four or fewer dwellings and have the owner occupying one of those dwellings.
If your landlord has the required accessible spaces but there aren’t enough available to provide you with one, or if your landlord isn’t required to provide a space but you need one, you can request one.
When a person with a disability requests a “reasonable accommodation” or a “reasonable modification” to make his or her home accessible, the FHA makes it illegal for a housing provider to refuse them.
Accommodations are changes to the building’s rules or the way services are provided. Modifications are structural changes, like widening a hallway to fit a wheelchair. Requests for accessible parking are considered to be accommodations.
What makes an accommodation “reasonable”?
- The tenant has a disability, as defined by the FHA, and
- There must be some relationship between the disability and the accommodation requested, i.e., a difficulty walking and a request for closer parking, and
- The accommodation does not impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the housing provider, and
- Providing the accommodation would not fundamentally alter the nature of the landlord’s business.
“Reasonableness” is determined on a case-by-case basis, weighing how much the change would benefit a tenant against how much it would burden the provider.
If there are free, unreserved spaces provided on a first-come first-served basis, it would be a reasonable accommodation to convert one of these spaces to an accessible space for a disabled tenant with difficulties walking.
That tenant might instead request a reserved non-accessible parking spot because it is closer to the entrance. If a building has already assigned its accessible spaces to tenants, it may have to create additional ones, even if that would exceed the FHA-required number of spaces.
Putting a disabled tenant at the top of a waiting list for parking spots is an example of policy change as reasonable accommodation. A landlord cannot charge a disabled tenant any more than non-disabled tenants pay for parking.
The law doesn’t specify a formal process for requesting accommodations.
The housing provider must reasonably understand that a request for a change has been made, and that a tenant’s disability is the reason for that request. This request can be done verbally, but it is best to do so in writing so that you have a record of the interaction.
If your disability and need for accommodation is not obvious, the housing provider may ask for limited information regarding your disability. If the housing provider refuses or you cannot reach an agreement over the form of the accommodation, or if the housing provider takes too long to respond to you, you can file a complaint.
Ideally, the complaint process will resolve the issue without need for an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit.
We’ve put together some generic request for accommodation forms — they’re on our Resources page, along with links to some more state-specific information about what to do if your request for accommodation is ignored.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act are federal laws, and enforcement is handled by federal agencies. Many states have their own requirements, and some provide additional protections for the disabled. State governments have their own agencies that enforce their own rules along with federal rules. Local governments may also have additional law and enforcement agencies, although outside of larger cities, they may have fewer resources to help you.
The process of filing complaints is similar, but as a rule of thumb, file complaints with state agencies first. These agencies can help you assert your rights under various federal and state laws at the same time. In some states, if you have already filed a complaint with HUD, you may not file at the state level. (This happens in states that have adopted federal guidelines wholesale.)
You must usually choose between filing at the state or at the city level. If you file with a city agency, they will co-file your complaints under state and federal law where applicable.
You don’t need to have an attorney to file a complaint, but you may find it helpful to hire one or reach out to fair housing nonprofit and legal aid organizations in your state. See our state-by-state sections for more information on state-level laws, agencies, and aid organizations.
Filing a Federal Complaint
If your building does not provide FHA-required accessible parking, you can file a complaint online, or by mail or phone with the Fair Housing Office of the US Department of Housing and Development (HUD) or an equivalent state agency.
If the parking is required by the ADA, file your complaint online (or by phone or mail) with the Department of Justice or an equivalent state agency. Failure to provide required accessible parking might also violate local building codes. There may be local authorities you can contact as an additional route to enforcement.
Appealing a housing provider’s denial for a parking-related request is more involved than filing a complaint with state or federal authorities. This is because there are more facts to determine.
You must file your complaint with the federal agencies within one year of the request’s denial, but it is best not to delay. For most state agencies, the limit is typically one year and is tied to the date that you make your initial complaint with the agency, but in others, the time limit may be much shorter or based on the date your complaint is accepted. This clock starts from the date of the “discriminatory incident,” or the final refusal of or failure to answer your accommodation request. Be prepared to provide information like your name and contact information, the housing provider’s information, and a description of the incident for this initial filing.
Once they receive your complaint, the agency with whom you filed your complaint will contact you, and ask you to provide information like proof of your disability and records of your communications with your housing provider.
It’s important to keep records of every communication with your housing provider. If possible, keep every email you write in a separate email folder that you can save. If you’re writing letters, make photocopies before sending them.
If the initial inquiry supports your discrimination claim, an official complaint will be filed by HUD and sent to your housing provider, and a formal investigation will begin. HUD will attempt to help you and your housing provider reach an agreement through mediation. If mediation fails, and the agency believes discrimination has occurred, the housing provider will be charged and will have to appear before an administrative law judge.
The agency will provide an attorney to represent you in the administrative hearing, if necessary. The administrative law judge will determine whether you were discriminated against. The court may require your landlord to make the accommodation you requested, and can also fine the housing provider, and require payment of damages and attorney fees.
If either party decides to have the matter tried in federal court instead of by the agency, the Department of Justice will file a civil suit on the tenant’s behalf, and the determination will be made in federal court. If you are filing a lawsuit in federal court, you will typically have two years from the initial incident (this “clock” typically isn’t running while an agency is handling your complaint), but it is always best to file sooner.
Your city is required to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA’s Title II applies to local governments. While it does have broad requirements for a town or cities public facilities to be accessible, it does not have any specific requirements for on-street parking.
One court did recently decide that towns must provide accessible on-street parking, but the effect of this case is not clear yet.
Still, if your accessibility problems could be addressed by having designated accessible street parking near your residence, it might be worthwhile to contact your local government and make such a request. Just be aware that there is no legal consensus on exactly what the ADA requires them to do about your request.
The ADA requires places of public accommodation, meaning private establishments (retail stores, recreation facilities, and hotels, among others) that are open to the public to provide accessible parking.
It also requires public entities, like state and local governments, to make any government programs, services, or activities accessible to people with disabilities. This requires public parking lots to contain accessible parking spaces.
The ADA also requires that accessibility features be maintained. Allowing snow to be piled in accessible spaces or otherwise failing to maintain accessibility is the same as failing to provide these spaces at all.
Failure to provide these spaces violates the ADA (Title III for places of public accommodation, Title II for government entities), and can be addressed through the same complaint process with the DOJ described above.