Renting with a disability

Renting with a disability

If you're looking to move out of home and gain more independence, renting your own place or a room in a share house is a great way to increase your independence, meet new people and enjoy your own space. 

Key points

  • When looking for a rental place or room, take the time to think about your budget, location preferences, current supports, the type of place you want to live and who you’d like to live with

  • You can find available rental places through Government and accessible housing options or through the private market

  • NDIS Support Coordinators or Plan Managers, guardians and paid support providers can help you put a rental application together

Woman cooking in her kitchen
Access 2 Place tenant Sandra enjoys cooking in her rental. [Source: Access 2 Place]

Housing options

Social housing

Social housing is rental housing owned or managed by the Government or a community organisation and usually costs less than private housing. It provides secure, affordable housing options for vulnerable people who aren't able to access or maintain other housing. Eligibility differs across each State, so check with your State Government.

Accessible housing 

An accessible home looks like an everyday house but can be lived in by anyone, no matter their mobility or disability, because it has specific adjustments or modifications. An example of this is Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA). SDA is funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It is housing designed especially for people with very high support needs. Read more about SDA here.

Private rental or house sharing

This means to rent a house, unit or apartment directly from a private landlord or through a real estate agent who looks after the property. This may include living with others who don’t have a disability, living with friends, or house sharing. 

Know your rights

Every person, including those living with disability, has the right to choose how and where they want to live. But Ashlee Pyke from disability housing provider Access 2 Place says people with disability can experience barriers to renting. 

“The private rental market is very competitive. In discussions with the sector over many years, we are aware that some applicants living with disability may not be viewed as a strong or appropriate fit compared to other applicants,” she says. 

“Financial restrictions can be one of the biggest challenges for tenants in the private rental market, as low income earners or people on Centrelink may often be overlooked compared to a full-time employee applying for a tenancy.”

She explains that private rentals do need to meet certain criteria. 

“Landlords must comply with the Equal Opportunity Act and Residential Tenancy Act. However all applications for private rentals go directly to the landlord for approval, and ultimately it would be up to them to choose who they would want to rent their house to.”

While landlords and agents have the right to choose the tenant they think is most suitable, they cannot unfairly discriminate against you when you apply for a rental property. 

For example, they cannot refuse your application or evict you solely because of your physical or intellectual disability, or mental health condition. 

If you have an assistance dog, landlords and agents cannot refuse to rent you a property or room, ask you to leave the property, or ask you to pay an extra charge because of your assistance dog. 

If you feel that your application has been declined, or you have been treated unfairly by a real estate agent or landlord because of your disability, you can make a complaint to the relevant equal opportunity and human rights agency within your State or Territory.

Things to think about before deciding on a place

Whether you’re moving out of home for the first time or want to move somewhere new, there are many important things to think about. Here are some key things to consider before choosing a place to rent to make sure you find the best place for you. 

What type of accommodation you’d like to live in - for example, would you prefer a unit, house, studio, or sharehouse? Will you look for private rentals or accessible accommodation options?

Location - Think about access to places you frequently visit like shops, family and friends' houses, work, training, education, arts and cultural venues and public services such as health services.

Access to supports - What formal and informal supports do you currently receive and can they continue if you move somewhere else?

What features are important to you? Do you like lots of storage, large bedrooms, single-story, accessible entrances, own bathroom? Do you want a furnished or unfurnished place?

Mobility - Do you have any mobility issues that could prevent you from going up and down stairs or walking along the path into the home?

Your budget - how much can you spend on rent and expenses each month?

Who you would like to live with - Females, males, friends, strangers, people with disabilities, people your own age, family members, people without disabilities? 

How many people do you want to live with?

Do you need to take any care equipment with you? Is there room for it?

What to look for in a rental property

There are many things to think about when choosing a rental property that is right for you and meets your personal and physical needs. 

Here are some general things to look out for in a rental property:

  • The place matches the advertised description 

  • The property isn’t damaged and doesn't contain dangerous hazards like a hole in a wall or loose electricity cables

  • Security features like deadlocks and window screens

  • Storage options

  • General cleanliness

  • Heating and cooling access

  • All appliances and power points are working

If you have a physical disability, Access 2 Place recommends considering the practical aspects of a home, such as:

  • Wide hallways

  • Wide front door and internal doorways

  • Lower light switches, power points and air conditioning controls

  • Handles and grab rails in the bathroom

  • Enough room for a chair in the shower: wheelchairs will require larger bathrooms and a wide pivot or swing doorway

  • Weighted, strengthened shower curtain and rail

  • Ceiling tracks for ceiling hoists

  • Lowered benchtops to suit those who use chairs

  • Flat driveway and no steps into home preferred, ramps to outdoor areas or same level outside-inside transition

  • Paths around the home that are at least one metre wide, with no tight spaces

  • Accessible cupboards, at a lower height, including pull down shelving in the kitchen, instead of high cupboards

  • Floorboards or laminate/floating floors, instead of carpet

  • Access railing in bathrooms and toilets

  • Appliances may need to be lowered for the occupant to access

Where can I find a place to rent?

There are many online directories where you can search for rental properties, share houses or accessible accommodation. 

Some mainstream websites include:

Accessible housing

Here are some websites where you can search for accessible housing options:

Disability Housing - listings of rental housing, houses for sale and disability housing projects.

Housing Hub - lists Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) and supported accommodation across Australia. 

Nest - matches people with disability with houses that suit their funding, support and personal needs.

Housing Choices Australia -  a not-for-profit housing provider that delivers high quality, accessible and affordable housing for people who struggle to find a suitable home in Australia’s private rental market, particularly people living on low incomes and those living with a disability. 

How to apply for a rental property

When you find a place you would like to rent, you need to put in an application to be considered as a tenant. Other people might also want to be considered to live in the same place, so sending in an application helps the owner determine would they think would be the best fit for the property. 

Applying for private rentals

A real estate agent or landlord may ask for all or some of the following documents:

  • Reference letters and contact details of at least three references

  • Pet references (if applicable)

  • Proof of income (recent payslips, bank statements, tax return)

  • Letter of employment (if you’re currently unemployed but will be starting a new job)

  • ‘100 points’ of valid ID (passport, citizenship certificate, driver’s licence, Medicare card, utility bills)

  • Resume of your rental/employment history

  • Deposit/rental ledger (summary of your rental payment history)

  • Cover letter

  • Completed application form

How to prove you can pay rent

It’s very important that you show the landlord or property manager that you’ll be able to pay the rent. 

You can do this by writing about your rental history and showing your current payslips and bank statements. Earning enough money to cover the bills and utilities, having a good track record of paying on time, and having some back-up savings will improve your chances of being approved for the property.

Many will require you to pay a security bond upfront (which you’ll get back at the end of your lease if everything is ok with the property) which is typically the amount of four weeks’ rent. So it’s important you factor this into your budget. 

You are not required to pay a bond if you are going into SDA.

Why do you need references? 

Good references will prove you are a reliable tenant who will pay rent on time and look after the property. Once you have permission from your references to list them on your application, ask for a reference letter including their contact details.

You should have at least three references. You might not need to use them all but having at least three ready to go means you won’t lose time gathering more information during the application process. These could be from a real estate agent, property manager, landlord, co-worker, employer, former neighbour, TAFE/university tutor or accountant. 

Ask people who have known you for a while and who will be able to answer some questions about you and your life to indicate to the landlord or agent that you will be a reliable tenant.

Applying for share housing

Applying for a room via online house sharing websites may look a little different. You will need to create a profile including your photo and some information about yourself. 

It can be helpful to include things like:

  • Location you’re looking in

  • Your preferred length of stay

  • Whether you have pets,

  • What you do for work 

  • Your interests and hobbies

  • What kind of environment you want to live in (for example, are you ok living in a household that hosts lots of parties, or would you prefer a quiet environment?)

 Landlords or people looking for housemates will ask to meet face-to-face to verify your identity and see whether you’d be a good fit for the household. 

They may ask you to provide some documents from the list above, and will often require a bond as well. 

Applying for accessible housing

Once you have found an accessible housing provider with vacancies in your area, you, your carer or your Support Coordinator can send in an application.

The process might differ slightly depending on the provider, however a provider will typically ask you to fill in some registration forms such as:

  • Registration of Interest Form

  • Housing Needs Assessment Report

  • Client Risk Assessment Form

They will also require certain documents from you such as: 

  • Photo ID/birth certificate

  • A detailed letter from a support agency or similar health professional outlining the disability and care required

  • Proof of income – current Centrelink statement or previous three Centrelink statements if you have additional fortnightly income

Who can help me with the application process?

There are a number of different housing options for you to consider, so having someone help you navigate the process can be a big help. 

Ms Pyke explains that “NDIS Support Coordinators or Plan Managers, guardians and paid support providers can help put a rental application together”.

The NDIS provides capacity building funding for those who need support to explore their housing options.  

If moving out of home is one of your goals, you can request ‘Coordination of Supports’ in your NDIS plan to fund a support coordinator to help you look for housing options and help organise application documents. 

Head to the NDIS website to read more about housing support options.

Can I get financial support?

A home which suits your personal needs can be more expensive or further away from amenities and transport. If you are struggling to afford an accessible home or rental property, there is financial support available.

If you meet the eligibility requirements you may be able to receive Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA) through Centrelink, which provides you with some financial assistance.

However, you can use any income you may have, such as your Disability Support Pension (DSP) and Commonwealth Rent Assistance (if you are entitled to them) towards your rent.

To get Rent Assistance with DSP, you must meet some special rules. If you don’t live with your parents or guardians one of the following must apply, you’re:

  • 18 or older

  • younger than 18 and independent

  • younger than 18 and living in disability accommodation or away from your parents’ home due to a medical condition

If you are living in SDA, you will still need to pay a ‘reasonable rent contribution’ which is

  • 25 percent of your Disability Support Pension, plus 

  • 100 percent of your Commonwealth Rent Assistance

Your NDIS funding will not pay for your rent or other everyday expenses that are not directly related to your disability. 

Ms Pyke says people who require 24/7 live-in support should ensure their support providers are contributing to some of the running costs of being set up in their home.

“These costs could include electricity or contributions to rent. This should be reflected in your service agreements,” she adds.

“It is also very important that support providers respect that they are working in your home, that the lease is in your name, and that you have the choice and control.”

Accessing in-home support in a rental

If you need support where you live with day to day activities or tasks, you could be eligible for Supported Independent Living (SIL) funding in your NDIS plan. SIL is help or supervision with daily tasks in your home to help you live as independently as possible, while building your skills. You can get SIL if you live in a home with other people. 

It is paid personal support and is most commonly used in shared living arrangements. It includes things like having a person to help with personal care tasks, or cooking meals. Read more about SIL here.

What if I need home modifications?

The NDIS may fund modifications, such as ramps, handrails or lever taps, to make the rented premises safe and accessible for a tenant with a disability.

However, you must have written consent from the landlord beforehand (and the owners corporation, if applicable).

Write to your landlord and tell them what you want to do.  If they do give their consent, they are not obligated to pay for the modifications so you will need to be clear about who will pay for what. 

If you make modifications on a short-term lease (less than five years) you will be responsible for restoring the property to its original condition unless you have written consent from the landlord saying the alterations can stay.

A landlord is not obligated to make modifications to the property. If they don’t give consent for a particular modification, first ask why the request was refused, as there may be a legitimate reason. 

If a landlord disagrees with what you want to do or refuses to give their permission, you may need to negotiate further with them directly or through the real estate agent, or take it to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal in your home State.

“If you request modifications, the landlord may be required to meet your needs, and some landlords may not wish for their property to be modified,” Ms Pyke says.

“Be clear about your needs. Provide supporting documentation, for example an occupational therapy report that identifies what you need. If possible, be flexible about what you are willing to accept.”

To get home modifications funded by the NDIS, you’ll need to request the modifications in your plan.

Are you currently renting your own place or room? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below! 

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