How to Find Wheelchair Accessible Rental Property

By FrankiChaffin

January 16, 2020

For most of us, finding a new property to rent can be a bit of a pain. Trawling through property portals, scrolling through ads on GumTree, checking out your local estate agents - it can all feel a bit much! Let alone once you start scheduling viewings, negotiating back and forth with agents or landlords, dealing with contracts and referencing checks.

But there’s one thing that can make the search for a new home to rent substantially more difficult… trying to find an accessible property.

Wheelchair users or people with limited mobility face a huge challenge when trying to find a suitable home that allows them to live independently. Unfortunately, the UK has a huge shortage of wheelchair accessible or adapted homes, and even the few accessible properties that do exist are often poorly advertised and incredibly difficult to identify.

However, fear not, the challenge is not impossible and there are ways to track down accessible flats, houses and bungalows - if you know where to look.

What makes a property accessible?

Broadly speaking, an accessible property is a home that contains specialist features that make it easier for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility to live independently. Disabled or elderly people have a broad range of needs and different people will require different levels of accessibility.

Adapted Rental Properties

For people with less severe needs, an “adapted” property could be all they require. An adapted home has been updated with a range of accessible improvements, such as adding a ramp to enter the property, or adding grab rails in the bathrooms. Adapted properties generally offer a lower level of accessibility when compared to homes that have been specifically design for a wheelchair user from the ground up. But having said that, you do find cases where a homeowner or landlord has put a significant amount of time and money into adapting their property, effectively converting it into a fully wheelchair accessible home.

Wheelchair Accessible Rental Properties

For wheelchair users or people with more comprehensive accessibility needs, you will usually require a home that has been specifically designed to be lived in by a wheelchair user. These types of homes are usually referred to as “wheelchair accessible properties” and are mostly found in new build developments.

Property developers have certain regulations and requirements to follow when building new homes, and especially for larger developments, they will be asked to include a fixed minimum number of accessible units.

Wheelchair accessible rental homes will typically contain most, if not all, of the following features:

  • Step-free access (external)
  • Ramped access (external)
  • Support rails on approach to property (external)
  • Level-access throughout
  • Wide doorways
  • Wide hallways
  • Increased spatial standards (allowing for wheelchair turning circle)
  • Increased structural integrity (especially strong ceilings to support hoists)
  • Tracked or fixed ceiling hoists
  • Grab rails
  • Wet rooms or walk-in bath
  • Lowered countertops
  • Lowered environmental/electrical controls (e.g. light switches, thermostats etc.)
  • Stair lift or wheelchair lift between floors
  • Intercom or entry phone

The vast majority of new build homes are built with wider hallways and doorways and generally meet better spatial standards that would allow a wheelchair user to move around the property freely.

So if you are a wheelchair user or have quite comprehensive needs, you will usually want to look for a fully wheelchair accessible home to rent, instead of an adapted property.

How to find accessible rental properties

Prepare a list of your accessible requirements

The first step to successfully finding an accessible rental property is to work out exactly what you’re looking for.

It makes sense to create a list of specific features you’re looking for, for example a wet room, or level access, or lowered countertops. Make a list of absolutely everything that comes to mind and then split it into “must haves” and “nice to haves”.

Knowing exactly what you’re looking for will help to prevent time-wasting and having a pre-prepared list means you can send that over to the agent or landlord with your first enquiry about a property and ask them to confirm if the house or flat ticks those boxes.

Get to grips with accessible housing ratings

Over the years, there have been a number of different terms and ratings used to define an accessible home and try to give some indication of its level of accessibility. Most of these ratings are only used for new build homes, but you can find certain Local Authorities and property websites that will try to use them on all their available properties.

Until relatively recently, the “Lifetime Homes Standard” was the most common term used to describe a property that has been built with accessibility in mind and could be easily adapted to suit the needs of a wheelchair user. Unfortunately this term has officially been retired in favour of more technical ratings - BUT - a lot of developers and estate agents will recognise and understand the ‘Lifetime Homes Standard’, so it’s still a good one to know.

The Government’s current rating system is based on the optional technical standards laid out in Part M of Building Regulations since 2015.

Part M contains two significant ratings: M4 Category 2 and M4 Category 3. Category 2 refers to “accessible and adaptable” homes that meet at least the basic access requirements and could be relatively easily adapted to be fully wheelchair accessible. Category 3 on the other hand is much rarer and refers to fully wheelchair accessible homes.

Searching for accessible rental properties online

Once you’ve got to grips with the technical terms and worked out exactly what you need in a rental property, it’s time to start searching online.

The UK’s two most popular property websites, Rightmove and Zoopla, do offer a keyword search where you can enter search terms like:

  • “2 bed wheelchair accessible flat to rent”
  • “Wheelchair accessible flat in Manchester”
  • Accessible bungalows to rent in Essex”
  • Etc.

But unfortunately they don’t offer anything more sophisticated than that. So you won’t be able to filter your search results by specific features. Another annoying point about the keyword search is that relies on the letting agent or landlord marketing the property to include the words “wheelchair accessible” in the property advert. 

So bare in mind that if you have relatively minor access requirements, you may find a suitable property that isn’t actually described as “accessible”.

Specialist accessible property websites

Thankfully, there are a few specialist websites that cater to wheelchair accessible and adapted properties, and these are usually your best bet for finding an accessible rental home.

Finding rental property on the Accessible Property Register

The Accessible Property Register was set up by a husband and wife duo who came face to face with the challenges of finding an accessible home when they needed to find a new property. They quickly realised that none of the major property sites catered to the accessible market, and there was nowhere online where you could search for properties using filters for accessible features.

The Accessible Property Register, or APR, advertises accessible homes to rent from both property developers, letting agents and individual landlords. 

All of the property ads on the website contain detailed information about accessibility and have a checklist to show which accessible features are present. Just like any other property website you can search by location, size of property, number of bedrooms, price etc. But you can also set filters for the adaptations and features you need.

Finding accessible rental property using estate agents

Unfortunately, most estate and letting agents don’t put much thought into how they advertise and find accessible homes. BUT, an estate agent should know their local market inside out, and if you can give them a list of your specific requirements, they should be able to highlight a selection of rental properties that could meet your needs.

So it’s definitely worth paying your local High Street estate agent a visit.

Thankfully, there is also an estate agent called Branch Properties that is dedicated to wheelchair accessible and adapted properties.

Branch Properties have in-depth knowledge of accessible housing requirements and even offer a ‘Property Finding Service’ where you can pay them a small fee to search for properties on your behalf. If you’ve got the cash to spare, this can be a great option for people who work full time or simply don’t have the spare time to do the search themselves.

Finding accessible rental property via your Local Authority

Another option when you’re trying to find an accessible rental property is to approach your Local Authority and any local Housing Associations.

These groups will definitely have wheelchair accessible and adapted rental properties on their books - HOWEVER, it is well known that waiting lists for these types of properties are overflowing. 

It’s definitely worth registering your interest with both your Local Authority and any Housing Associations, but don’t rely on this as your only option, especially if you are under a time crunch.

So there you have it! A breakdown of our guidance and advice on how to find wheelchair accessible rental properties. We hope you found this blog post useful and please do stop by the Accessible Property Register blog for more useful guides and articles about disabled access and barrier-free homes.