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Grants are available for landlords with disabled tenants. Chris Partridge reports
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The Independent Online

Disabled tenants can now request modifications to their rented homes to make their lives easier, but few landlords know that they can apply for grants to pay for the work.

Under the new Disability Discrimination Act, disabled tenants can request "reasonable adjustments" to rented properties, such as handles in bathrooms for those with low mobility.

Landlords' organisations have reacted to the legislation with horror, following a raft of new regulations in the private rented sector.

"Landlords are still shell shocked from the effects of the Housing Act," says the Residential Landlords Association's lawyer, Richard Jones. "It's not the best time to hit them with potentially heavy costs."

Jones concedes that the Housing Act does not lumber landlords with major building work, but he is alarmed at what landlords may need to do.

"The Disability Act does not require the alteration or removal of features that are part of the building," he says. "But landlords and property managers may well have to supply portable ramps or adapt furniture and fittings."

He fears that landlords will not be able to recover the costs, and that rents will go up and accommodation will become scarcer.

Yet, in truth, the cost of modifications is likely to be small compared with the enormous benefits. Once a disabled person has found a sympathetic landlord, they are likely to stay for the long term, and be ideal tenants.

Liz Woskett is a legal advisor at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and is blind herself, so she has experience of the problems faced by disabled tenants.

"My main problem was that landlords would not allow my guide dog," she says. It is now unacceptable to ban assistance animals.

"The second problem was reading adverts in estate agents' windows," she says. "Using the web can make finding a place easier, but it varies tremendously. Rightmove works very well with my accessibility software, but a lot of smaller estate agents' sites are very difficult to navigate."

New technology is a huge help, such as software for the blind that can enlarge typefaces and "read out" websites and e-mails.

Small things such as translating documents into Braille or installing special lighting are not costly, but make a big difference. "Light levels are very important. It is good to have spot lighting in important areas," Woskett says.

Spot lighting is very fashionable and can be eco-friendly, too. It is possible to combine disabled access with stylish interior design. "Disabled people don't want to live in a clinic either," says Woskett.

Landlords need not be deterred by the cost of alterations, says John McCrohan, grants officer of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. "The MS Society provides more than £1m in grants annually to help people cope with the cost of MS," he says.

"In 2005, more than £200,000 was provided in grants to help with the cost of home adaptations, such as stairlifts and bathroom adaptations, to make people's homes more accessible and safer."

Disabled people can also apply for Disabled Facilities Grants administered by local authorities, McCrohan explains. But, he says, the funds available are less than generous and also means-tested.

"The Government is currently consulting on proposals to improve the grants programme, and the MS Society will be fully involved in this," he says.

Small adaptations of the kind envisaged by the Disability Discrimination Act may well qualify for automatic grants.

"It is worth noting that minor adaptations needed by a disabled occupant that cost less than £1,000 should be provided freely by the local housing department in England," McCrohan says. "In this instance, there would be no burden on the landlord."