In a September 1994 decision applicable to many cooperatives and condominiums in New York City, the Appellate Division,
Second Department, has determined that a cooperative housing corporation's refusal to expend funds to install a wheelchair ramp for a disabled resident constitutes a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the New York City Human Rights Law. Notwithstanding the specific facts of the case, the holding in Matter of United Veterans Mutual Housing No. 2 Corp. imposes a broad responsibility upon cooperatives and condominiums to ensure that their fiscal policies are not in violation of applicable statutes to protect the disabled.
The dispute in United Veterans concerned a disabled resident confined to a wheelchair and an 800-unit Bayside, Queens garden apartment complex. For a period of ten years, the disabled resident was provided access to her apartment through use of a wooden ramp. Over time, the ramp deteriorated to such an extent that it was removed by the co-op. The board then refused to expend funds to construct a replacement ramp, but agreed that the disabled resident could install a new ramp at her own expense. The resident did so, but then filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights contending that the cooperative was engaging in unlawful discriminatory practices.
In opposing the disabled resident's complaint, the cooperative denied the allegations of discrimination, claiming instead that the ramp built by the resident was not in compliance with the New York City Building Code and inconvenienced an elderly resident in the same building.
The two parties subsequently entered into a settlement under which the co-op agreed to construct a new ramp, at its own expense, utilizing the materials in the ramp built by the resident. However, in the settlement, the co-op emphatically reaffirmed its overall policy of refusing to make any expenditures to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled residents. Shortly thereafter, the New York City Commissioner on Human Rights issued a decision that held that the cooperative's policy of outright refusal to provide, at its own expense, any reasonable accommodations to common elements which would address the needs of disabled residents, regardless of cost, violated the Human Rights Law.