Claire Perlman, a wheelchair user and journalist, reveals the financial burden she has faced while living in New York City. Over nine years, she has spent more than $18,500 on amenities like automatic door openers to make her apartments wheelchair-accessible. Despite laws stating that landlords should bear these costs, Perlman often had to pay for them herself. Her story is not unique; many disabled New Yorkers face similar challenges, often exacerbated by landlords who skirt the law.
Various laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law, mandate that landlords should cover the cost of “reasonable modifications” like automatic door openers. However, some landlords argue these accommodations are not reasonable and refuse to pay, leaving the financial burden on the tenants.
Several factors determine the accessibility of an apartment for disabled individuals. These include the absence of steps at the building’s entrance, the need for the unit to be on the ground floor or in a building with an elevator, and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair. Despite these requirements, only 32% of New York City apartments could be entered without stairs as of 2021, according to city analysis.
The Struggles Extend Beyond Financials
For tenants using housing vouchers, which help subsidize rent, the challenges are even greater. These tenants are often people with disabilities, people of color, or single female-headed households, and they face significant discrimination. Natàlia Méndez, a Bronx native and founder of Women on Wheels, had to move to a nursing home after a spinal cord injury because she couldn’t afford rent. Even after finding an affordable, accessible apartment, the rent was nearly tripled by new owners, forcing most of her neighbors, many of whom were disabled, to leave.
New York City has taken steps to support disabled individuals in need of affordable housing. However, these efforts are often not enough. Even newly constructed or renovated buildings may not meet all the design and construction requirements mandated by law. Moreover, building modifications can be expensive, creating a financial strain for both building owners and prospective tenants.
The challenges of finding accessible and affordable housing in New York City are systemic, affecting thousands of disabled residents. While some legal protections exist, they are often insufficient or poorly enforced, leaving disabled individuals to bear the brunt of the costs and challenges. This issue highlights the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their physical abilities, have equal access to housing.