Q&A: Added Access, Added Cost

Q At our recent annual meeting we were shocked to learn that a single shareholder had, without any discussion, filed a complaint with the NYC or NYS over the absence of a ramp or some other special equipment (lift or elevator, possibly) that would provide her with better access our lobby (which includes a few steps up to the elevator on the first floor). We do have both steps and a ramp of sorts from the outside of each of the three buildings in our co-op that lead to the basement, where the elevator is then accessible without steps.

Our board president informed us that the cost to facilitate one building would be approximately $80,000, and that to facilitate all three would cost $200,000. With 200 units, the average cost per shareholder would be $1,000—and I don’t know if the woman who formed the complaint would be required to pay.

Are there any laws or exceptions with this case, concerning a private and already constructed co-op in New York?

-Queens Shareholder

A According to Patricia Kantor of the law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP, “It is well-settled that cooperative apartment corporations have certain obligations to accommodate disabled residents, whether those obligations arise under the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, NY State and City Anti Discrimination Laws or any of the myriad of other laws, codes and regulations intended to protect and assist the disabled. Assuming the tenant requesting the ramp fits the definition of disabled under applicable law, the issue is what needs to be done in order to afford her reasonable access and at whose expense.

“The co-op is required to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ to enable the tenant to access the building, most likely at the co-op's expense. From the letter, it is not clear if the existing ramp is sufficient to satisfy the ‘reasonable accommodation’ standard. To require the tenant to use a different and less convenient entrance than other residents without having explored ways in which to afford the tenant access through the front door would not satisfy the co-op's obligations under the law.

“Determining what is reasonable in any given situation requires a careful analysis of the particular facts involved. For example, it was deemed an economic burden and thus unreasonable to require a co-op to expend more than $25,000 to install an entrance ramp where the co-op was already operating at a deficit and other means of access to the building existed. In other instances, however, as simple ramp has been found to be a reasonable accommodation. In another example, a co-op was required to provide an indoor parking spot to a disabled tenant, although the co-op maintained that this was a ‘special privilege’ and not a ‘reasonable accommodation’ to her since other residents were ahead of her on the waiting list.

“It is clear that this tenant has a right to expect that a reasonable accommodation be made to afford her access to the building through its front door. If she raised the issue with the co-op (or its managing agent) prior to bringing her lawsuit and such a reasonable accommodation was not made, the tenant has a right to assert her claim in court. The court will then weigh the relief requested against any economic burden or hardship to the co-op to make its determination as to whether a ramp, lift or other measure would be a reasonable accommodation to the disabled tenant under the circumstances.”

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