Having a home to call one’s own is a giant milestone millions of Americans strive to achieve. Becoming a homeowner brings with it a sense of pride and accomplishment, but the process of touring homes for sale and making an offer can be intimidating. This is especially true for those with physical or emotional disabilities wishing to attain homeownership.
In fact, the federal government has established several laws and administrations for the sole purpose of protecting your rights as a disabled homebuyer, no matter the nature of your disability. This guide is designed to be a tool to assist those fearing their disability may become a factor in making the home buying experience more cumbersome. You will find information on what your rights are, resources to aid you in understanding the procedures involved in acquiring a home, and advice on how to proceed if you feel your rights have been dishonored. Additionally, you will find resources to make the most of the opportunities available to you for purchasing a home, whether your plans are to purchase your first house or to relocate from your current residence to your dream home.
Your Rights as a Homebuyer
For the purposes of enforcing nondiscrimination laws, the government defines a disability as a physical or mental condition that impacts a person’s ability to function in one or more major life activities, such as walking, driving or even breathing. The following resources provide valuable information on the rules and organizations that are designed to ensure that your rights as a homebuyer are clearly defined and protected under federal law.
Under the Fair Housing Act, discrimination against a potential homebuyer based on his or her disability is illegal. This website offers information on how applicants with physical or emotional disabilities have the same rights to the home buying process and the purchase of a residence as someone who does not.
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) was established to enforce the rights of any homebuyer, including those who are physically or mentally disabled. They provide financial assistance to state and local agencies that have a proven record of enforcing fair housing practices to further protect homebuyers from discrimination.
Regulation B, which was developed by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to support the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, is designed to grant the right to credit lending regardless of factors such as race, age, or disability status. Regulation B also provides the rights of applicants to receive information on the status changes of an application and criteria used to come to a determination of the approval or decline of a loan.
A housing provider is prohibited from creating extra criteria for a potential homebuyer to purchase a home. For example, a seller may not refuse to sell a dwelling to someone with a disability, nor can they tack on extra fees or extend the waiting period for the purchase of the home.
You have a right to sturdy, accessible housing, even if you are physically impaired. The Fair Housing Act requires that any multi-family housing built after March 13, 1991, include certain features ensuring accessibility and safety for residents of the home, including those who have a physical disability. These attributes include accessible routes and entryways into the home, such as ramps and doorways to accommodate wheelchairs; reinforced bathroom walls for the secure installation of hand bars; and electrical outlets and switches located in reachable areas for those who are dependent on a wheelchair.
Responsibilities of a Mortgage Lender to a Homebuyer
When buying a home, many people choose to borrow a majority of the funds from a lending institution, such as a bank or credit union, and make an initial down payment for a percentage of the purchase price with money they have saved on their own. There are three basic steps that will occur when you inquire about or apply for a mortgage:
- The lender will run a credit check.
- The lender will determine how much you are eligible to borrow.
- The lender will assist you in applying for the loan, should you choose to do so.
The following resources provide helpful information on what the mortgage process involves, and what the mortgage lender’s responsibilities are to uphold your rights as a disabled homebuyer.
A lender cannot discourage an applicant from applying for a loan based on a disability, nor can they alter the terms or conditions of a loan for this reason (such as increasing an interest rate or requested down payment amount). The lender may also not deny a loan for this reason alone.
Section 504 of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that no one should be discriminated against simply due to the fact that he or she has a mental or physical disability. This includes a person’s right to apply for a loan, the documentation requested from an individual in the loan application process, and the decision of approving or declining a loan application.
A lender must consider any public assistance income the same way they would consider any other source of income. The lender has the right to request information on any assistance from the Social Security Administration if you ask for it to be considered as part of your income on your loan application. However, unless the information provided by the Social Security Administration identifies an exact date when your benefit will expire, the lender must assume that the benefit will be continuous.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits acts that discriminate against disabled homebuyers, including the refusal to sell or negotiate for housing or be dishonest about available housing. This resource provides information on what kind of housing the FHA covers, and the actions of a seller that are restricted by law.
What to Do if You Feel Your Rights Have Been Violated
There are severe consequences for lending companies or individuals who violate the rights of homebuyers with disabilities. The Department of Justice considers this behavior a serious offense, and there are many channels of how to report this type of discrimination. The following resources provide useful information on the penalties of unlawful behavior by a lender, and ways to report it to an authority.
In 1996, the Department of Justice provided information to federally regulated banks on what constitutes discrimination and how different situations involving discriminatory practices would be handled, either at an administrative or litigation level. This resource provides information on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the consequences to a lender for not abiding by the guidelines it has set for these institutions to follow.
The Fair Housing Administration (FHA) encourages those who suspect they are being discriminated against as a potential homebuyer to contact HUD. This link provides information on how to reach both of these organizations.
If you decide to pursue legal action against a lender, it may be a good idea to contact your state’s attorney general. This link will help you identify and contact the attorney general of your state.
If you feel you are being discriminated against, you can fill out the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form and submit it online or mail it in. This resource also provides information on how to contact your local HUD office directly.
Programs for Assisting Disabled Homebuyers
While purchasing a home may be a daunting process for any potential homebuyer, there are many organizations, programs and specialists who can make the process easier for those with disabilities. The following list provides information on many of the resources available that can help make the dream of owning a home a reality.
It can be beneficial to seek the guidance of a housing counselor if you are disabled and pursuing the purchase of a home. HUD provides this service for free or a very low cost.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was created to help those in need find affordable homes, has a government-insured loan program with approved lending institutions. These loans are available to qualified disabled homebuyers.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers two different grants to current service members and veterans who have disabilities related to their services in the armed forces, the Specially Adapted Housing Grant and the Special Housing Adaptation Grant. For those who qualify, these can be used for the purchase or construction of a new home, or the modification of a currently owned dwelling.
Habitat for Humanity often builds homes that are affordable for those who are disabled or have a disabled family member.
Disabled World, an online community devoted to sharing helpful information on a variety of topics to those with disabilities, offers a list of programs offered by different states that may be beneficial to disabled homebuyers.
The government offers a housing choice voucher program to assist disabled, low-income and senior citizens acquire safe and affordable homes. This guidebook from HUD explains the program and how to qualify for it.
Additionally, there are many programs available for first-time and low-income homebuyers for which those with disabilities may qualify.
Additional Helpful Resources
There are many aspects to both choosing and buying a home. If you are disabled, there are a few additional details to contemplate. The following resources provide beneficial information on the different facets of purchasing a home, and details on particular considerations for this process if you have a disability.
Before you begin searching for a home, you should have an idea of what you are able to spend on one. This calculator tool will help you determine a home purchase budget.
Search for homes for sale in your price range to determine if buying a home makes sense right now, or if you should wait until you have a larger down payment.
To successfully apply for a mortgage, it’s important to understand your credit score. This resource provides access to a free annual credit report from the three major credit bureaus, which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
This guide goes into the specific details of what the mortgage loan process entails, including a glossary of terms and information on some of the costs associated with the application and the loan itself.
This guide offers step-by-step instructions on how to buy a home, from getting pre-approved for a mortgage, to touring homes with an agent, to making an offer and closing the deal.
HUD offers many different housing counseling agencies, with services ranging from budgeting for a home purchase, the lending process, and general homebuyer education. This resource lists HUD-approved housing counseling agencies by state.
It is important to know what questions to ask when you’re searching for a home. This resource provides a list of suggested questions you and your realtor should keep in mind when negotiating with sellers or their real estate agents.
Under the Fair Housing Act, you have a right to a safe home that meets certain criteria. The following resources can be used to help you determine the safety of a home you wish to purchase, or the one in which you currently reside:
- This resource provides a checklist for ensuring your home is safe for those with physical disabilities.
- The Center for Disease Control provides an elder-focused checklist to help you determine the safety of a home.
- This organization offers information on the different agencies available to educate or financially assist those who are interested in home modification.
Your disability should not deter you from reaching your goal of becoming a homeowner. Understanding your rights, knowing what financial opportunities exist, and being aware of what agencies are available to support you in your journey should grant you a sense of empowerment.
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