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Opioid Use Disorder and Federal Housing Protections

Health & Benefits

People in recovery from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) have some options to help fight housing discrimination.

The Americans with Disability Act and Opioid Use Disorder

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people in recovery from OUD and not engaging in illegal drug use can be considered to have a disability. This means they are protected by federal law. This includes people using Medications for Opioid Use Disorder as part of their treatment, and people who are in or have completed a treatment program.

The ADA may protect you if a landlord discriminates against you because of this disability, or uses your related criminal record as a basis for eviction or denying a rental application.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities on the basis of: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

Criminal History

Landlords may require a criminal background check as part of their application process. 
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes that these criminal background checks can be used in discriminatory ways, and can be used as an excuse to discriminate against protected classes. 

People with criminal histories are not considered a protected class on their own. However, because people in recovery from a substance use disorder may have a criminal history related to their substance use, that person may qualify for federal protection.

Reasonable Accommodations

Under the Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities can request a reasonable accommodation. This is a request that a landlord change a rule or policy because of your disability. 

HUD guidance states a landlord may have to make an exception to a criminal background policy when:

  • there is evidence the individual’s disability contributed to the criminal conduct as issue; and
  • there are mitigating circumstances that eliminate or significantly reduce the risk of harm to others or property, such as improvements resulting from previous or ongoing therapy or treatment.

Reasonable accommodation requests should be made:

  • in writing, 
  • to the complex owners or managers,
  • with a response deadline.  


Reasonable accommodations requests do not need to be long, but should give enough information for the landlord to know what you are asking to change and how it relates to your disability. Each accommodation request should state: 

  •  That you have a disability. 
  •  That your disability significantly impairs one or more major life activities.
  •  That such accommodation is absolutely necessary for you. 

It is recommended that you get a letter from a doctor or a professional in the medical field to help support your accommodation request. This is not required, but could be helpful. If you are not able to get a letter, you can send the request anyway, but a landlord might be able to request medical documentation to decide whether the accommodation is really necessary.

Once you make the request in writing, the landlord either grants or denies the request, or they could ask for more information. A landlord may deny an accommodation request if it would be an undue financial or administrative burden to them. However, this should not stop you from asking.

Administrative Complaints

If a landlord denies or ignores your accommodation request, treats you differently because you are a person with a disability, or if they make  derogatory comments about your disability when they were deciding to deny your application, you can file an administrative complaint with a federal or local entity (or both). You have one year from the date of discrimination to file an administrative complaint.

Federally, HUD addresses housing discrimination. In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission is in charge of addressing housing discrimination.

Lawsuits

Unlike the deadline for filing an administrative complaint, you have two years from the date of discrimination to file a lawsuit. You can file a lawsuit in either state or federal court based on housing discrimination related to your disability. You do not have to file an administrative complaint before filing a lawsuit.

Sample Accommodation Letter

Copy and insert your landlord’s information and change the bolded sections to fit your situation before you send this to your landlord. You can also download a .docx version.

[Date]

Dear [Landlord],

I am writing to ask for a reasonable accommodation as a person with disabilities that impact my ability to [life activities affected by your disability]. I live at [123 Road Dr., City, Texas].

You have a policy of denying rental applicants who have a background of criminal history. I request an accommodation to that policy. Specifically, I request that you ignore my disability-related criminal history when assessing my rental application. Without this accommodation, I am unable to access housing that would prevent me from becoming homeless. 

I would appreciate a response in writing within 5 days. Please let me know if you have any questions about my request for a reasonable accommodation. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerely,

[Resident Name]
 

Related Articles

Related Forms

  • OUD Reasonable Accommodation Letter (Tenant Request to Landlord)

    Sample letter to ask a landlord make accommodate a tenant or housing applicant's Opioid Use Disorder.