Despite the growing disabled population, accessible housing is still not readily available for everyone in need of it. With this in mind, an increasing number of homes are being designed that will offer increased accessibility to buyers from the get-go.
But what about prospective tenants looking to rent properties that is conducive to their disabilities?
There are, at present, more than 1.8 million individuals with some degree of limited mobility seeking accessible accommodation in the UK. With an increased need for wheelchair-friendly homes, landlords will be subject to more pressure to make their properties accessible. This has already become more legislated for in the case of HMO properties for let, with many councils requiring that HMO mortgages meet strict construction and layout guidelines. Although these changes can be costly to implement, they will make your property more appealing while supplying an individual with a disability with a comfortable, safe place to live. There are a number of ways you, as the landlord, can make a home more accessible to a wheelchair user.
The Disability Discrimination Act forbids the discrimination of tenants as well as prospective tenants due to a disability. Any wheelchair-bound tenant may ask the landlord to make reasonable exceptions to policies, rules and practices that will provide them with an equal chance of enjoying the rental home to the same extent that an able-bodied tenant would.
There are also a number of things that a landlord is not legally obliged to do, but that the tenant is allowed to change at his or her own expense. This includes modified doors, lower counters, wheelchair ramps and specialised door handles.
A landlord can, however, choose to make these and other alterations himself in a bid to make the home accessible to all.
One of the most important considerations in making a home accessible (and also one that is often overlooked) is entry into the home from the street. Most modern homes are being built with step-free access for increased accessibility. Many older homes still have steps leading up to the front door, in which case it may be necessary to construct a ramp to allow wheelchair users to access the house easily.
Ramps are typically constructed from poured concrete, wood or even aluminium with the first option being the most permanent solution. Apart from being wheelchair-friendly, a ramp can also make moving furniture a lot simpler while also adding value to the property. This will become an important part of landlords' calculations when assessing properties in the near future.
Having doorways that are wide enough to allow a wheelchair to pass through is one of the most important considerations in terms of accessibility. A typical wheelchair is 635mm (25 inches wide. For easy access, a doorway should be at least 900mm (35 inches) wide.
In most instances, simply removing the bulky wooden doorframe and replacing it with a sleeker design gives enough additional space for a wheelchair to pass through freely. Another popular solution is to switch from a standard hinged system to the ‘swing away’ style doors that are commonly used in nursing homes and rehab facilities. If the doorway itself is too narrow, minor renovations may be required, in which case it is best to call in the help of professional renovators.
Don’t forget to lower the peephole in the front door to make it possible for an individual in a wheelchair to also see who is at the door.
If you were to make a list of everything you need to change in your house to make it wheelchair-friendly, the bathroom should definitely be at the top of the list.
The bathroom is an important feature in any home, but even more so in one that will house a wheelchair user. If a bathroom is not fully accessible, simple tasks such as using the toilet, brushing teeth and having a bath or shower become virtually impossible. A bathroom requires at least 1500mm (59 inches) of space so that the wheelchair user can make a 360 degree turn.
There needs to be at least 1200mm (47 inches) in front of the toilet for the wheelchair with the wash basin being no more than 800mm (31 inches) off the floor to make it easy for a wheelchair-dependent individual to wash hands and brush teeth.
A roll-in shower with a suitable chair is one of the easiest ways to improve accessibility as it sometimes only requires the shower door to be altered in a bathroom that already boasts a jumbo-sized shower. Make sure to add sturdy hand rails next to the toilet as well as around the bath and in the shower to prevent and slips and falls from occurring.
The kitchen has always been the one room in the house where the most memories are made as a family. It is also the one room that will require a lot of planning, hard work and money to make completely accessible. If a home’s kitchen is very small it may be very difficult to create enough space for a wheelchair to manoeuvre in, in which case it may become necessary for a major renovation.
An upgraded, functional kitchen can add as much as four percent to the overall value of your home according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).3 If the kitchen is accessible as well, the value will increase even more. This alone is enough motivation for a landlord to invest in a kitchen upgrade that is both visually striking as well as practical.
For a kitchen to be truly accessible, it is important to make sure that a few pertinent adjustments are made. Room for movement is obviously very important while low work surfaces will make it easier for the wheelchair user to prepare food. It may, however, not be practical to lower all your kitchen counters to 600mm (23 inches) from the floor. What you can do is have a single lower counter in an easy-to-access spot in the kitchen or, alternatively, opt for adjustable countertops.
While it isn't necessary to have all your cabinets and storage spaces lowered to accommodate wheelchair users, there should be sufficient shelves at an easy-to-reach level for their convenience. If you are letting out your kitchen fully-fitted, make an effort to acquire appliances that either opens to the side or are placed in a way that allows a wheelchair to roll close enough to it to use them with ease.
If a landlord really wants to make his house fully accessible to a tenant with limited mobility, he can jump aboard IoT bandwagon and invest in a series of smart home technologies4 that can make the property even more accessible. Thanks to integrated smart home systems such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, it is becoming a lot simpler to incorporate smart technology into a home in a systematic manner.
Smart security devices such as smart locks and smart doorbells are welcome features to any home and will give a wheelchair user a much-needed sense of security amidst reports that the crime rate in England and Wales has risen by as much as 10% over the past year. A full home security system which incorporates a number of smart devices such as those mentioned, as well as high-resolution cameras, will add substantial value to the home, making it a lot more appealing to both able-bodied and disabled would-be tenants.
Other smart devices that will be especially beneficial to a wheelchair user include smart thermostats, smart coffee makers & cookers, and smart curtains and blinds. The purpose of a smart thermostat is to keep the home at a comfortable at all times with the simple press of a button. The user does not even need to be at home to adjust the thermostat as it can be done via a user-friendly app on a smartphone.
Smart coffee makers and cookers are a welcome addition to any fully-installed kitchen and will make simple daily chores significantly easier for someone with limited mobility. Smart coffee machines and crock pots can both be programmed in advanced to brew fresh coffee and cook delicious soups and stews as required.
Another welcome addition to any home is smart curtains, blinds and shades. It is often overlooked just how difficult a seemingly simple task such as opening and closing curtains may be for someone with limited mobility. A smartphone application will enable the house occupant to effortlessly open and close smart window covering with ease.
Not all measures to make a house more accessible need to involve extensive renovations and huge amounts of money. As a landlord you can choose to make smaller changes first, before doing larger alterations systematically.
Start by removing all the door knobs in the house and replacing them with levers to improve access. It will also help to lower them if possible, putting them well within reach of someone in a wheelchair. If smart lighting and window covers are not currently an option, ensure that there are pull cords on them to make it easier to control.
It is also recommended to remove all carpets and replace with wooden flooring, which is generally one of the most wheelchair friendly floor surfaces available.
Once you, as a landlord, are happy that the house you are letting out is accessible to all, you can shift your focus to the garden. Spending time in an accessible garden is not only enjoyable but can also prove to be very therapeutic for a wheelchair user.
The first thing to do is to ensure that there is a pathway throughout the entire garden that is unobstructed and easy to navigate by wheelchair. The perfect path will be firm and even, manufactured out of poured concrete or quality paving that won’t warp and break.
Although no garden will be complete without a green lawn and some simple yet beautiful plants, the majority of the garden should be contained within a variety of planters that can be easily accessed from a wheelchair.
One of the biggest considerations of an accessible garden is the integration of a suitable irrigation system. Watering a gardening manually is often considered to be a trying chore, even for able-bodied individuals. Garden hoses will be virtually impossible to operate by someone with mobility issues making the only real option a standard or smart irrigation system.
Making the decision to convert a regular house into one that is accessible to everyone, regardless of disability, is both noble and financially wise. Providing accessible accommodation to a disabled tenant will not only add substantial value to his or her life, but will also boost your own reputation, drawing more potential tenants to your properties. In the end, creating accessible homes is truly a win-win situation for all.