Adaptations and Accessibility in the PRS
Guy Harris has 19 years' experience within the property, e-commerce and disability sectors. Recently, he has worked on devising and implementing Abode Impact's asset acquisition strategy and processes.
Throughout the London 2012 Paralympics, The Last Leg’s presenters normalised disability with appropriate humour and social engagement via #isitok. Now we need to normalise wheelchair users as tenants. Why? Because this sector is a sound investment strategy and suitable housing is transformative for wheelchair users, their families, society and the economy. Losing our fear of where to start, is the first positive step to success!
The PRS offers a fabulous opportunity to solve many of the accessible housing issues faced in the UK today. Its huge diversity - of landlords, tenants, locations, types of property, and motivations - are as ideal for wheelchair users as non-disabled people, when they are given access to the market.
1. Accessibility is about good design and understanding the needs of occupants. It need not look clinical or ugly. It is a home, not a hospital.
2. Good design benefits everyone. Accessibility will boost your target audience and asset value, when implemented well .
3. Adaptations are about making a home work for the occupants. This concept is the same for non-disabled: for example, if you only have a bath but you want a shower, you can install a shower over the bath.
4. Ask: a tenant can tell you what works for them; expert advice can help you plan what will work for a wider audience.
5. Accessibility gives wheelchair users greater dignity and autonomy to fully participate in their lives, socially and financially.
Remember: tenants need consent, so an open conversation is the starting point. It’ll likely be a start to a more rewarding and co-operative relationship with a longer-term tenant. Adaptations should be agreed in advance of work and included within the contracts.
What might we consider for access? Please note: there isn’t space to go into detail here.
● Level access / step-free: consider the journey from arrival into and through the property, including outside space. Gradients and steps may be ramped - permanent or temporary. Doorways need level access either side. Configuring space for wheelchair users often provides a more aspirational product, avoiding narrow corridors and dead space, and can increase value and rent/saleability.
● Doorways: wide enough and with manoeuvring space either side to approach easily. Also adds to a sense of wellbeing and space (=increased rent/saleability).
● Multiple floors: through-floor lifts come in many options but not all wheelchair users require them. I rented a two storey house with no lift for four years: my wife was very happy with her upstairs domain...
● Bathroom: wetrooms or level access showers are great for many, but not all. Having the ability to securely fix grab rails / hoists to a wall or ceiling may be appropriate. Generally, it’s also about the layout of furniture.
In one rental property, I removed a shower screen, and installed a curtain, shower chair (I already owned) and grab rail. Total cost approx £20.
● Kitchen: accessible kitchen design has advanced massively, from budget to top of the range. A few companies also come with design knowledge. However, consider your tenant: a wheelchair user tenant who is dependent on a parent/guardian or care assistant may not need this.
● Parking & transport: a parking space close to the front door or accessible public transport links nearby.