Legal Rights of the Disabled Understanding Reasonable Accommodation

Getting around in New York City can be difficult, even at the best of times; traffic, crowds, construction, and inclement weather can all conspire against even the most able-bodied city-dweller. The situation can be more troublesome still for elderly New Yorkers, and those of us living and working with disabilities. For someone using a wheelchair, every curb poses a challenge; for those navigating without the benefit of sight, the sidewalk can be an obstacle course. For anyone recuperating after surgery or serious injury, getting into and out of their own home can pose problems"¦particularly if their building isn't in step with two very important pieces of legislation: the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Law

The FHAA was last amended in 1988, and prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of disability (as well as race, color, religion, sex, and familial status). Both the ADA and the FHAA cover private housing as well as Federal, State, and locally funded housing, and affect both rental and purchase processes, new construction, zoning, and advertising. Of the most concern to co-ops and condos, however, is the issue of providing equal access to and use of buildings, common spaces, and private units to disabled residents.

The FHAA requires owners and operators of housing facilities - including co-ops and condos - to "make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities." This might be something as simple as a board with a "no pets" rule allowing a blind resident to keep his or her seeing-eye dog on the property, or relaxing a mandatory carpeting rule that would cause difficulty for someone using a wheelchair.

When nothing has to be torn down, changed, or built from scratch, ADA/FHAA compliance might seem like a no-brainer for boards, but that's not always the case. In the case of Gittleman v.Woodhaven Condominium Association, a disabled condo owner petitioned his board for a designated space in the building's parking facility. The condo association denied the resident's request on the grounds that the building's master deed said that parking spaces were "common elements" that could be used by all unit owners non-exclusively.

In court, however, it was determined that that under federal housing law, the condo board was "duty bound to: (1) avoid enforcing provisions of the master deed that have discriminatory effects; and (2) regulate the use of the common elements so as to comply with the requirements of the FHAA. The condo was found guilty of discrimination under the FHAA for insisting on upholding a technicality in their deed, rather than making a relatively minor concession to a disabled resident.

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7 Comments

  • I llive in a condo in Mass. I have a hard time walking from my car to and up steep stairs to my front door.In the summer, spring and fall I can walk to my back patio over a grassy area. When it snows the plow pushes the snow from the parking lot over this area so that I can't do that. Is it reasonable to ask the association to have the men who plow this area to shovel a small path to my back door?
  • How can a condo association address a disabled resident who refuses to have a civil discussion about the issue? Can you force someone to participate in arbitration? Can you please describe the arbitration process - how a condo board can initiate it?
  • I have ( a spinal cord injury) and use a walking device , I live in an HOA and share a carport with my neighbor who parks and stores his boat/trailer I have been blocked about 3 times when opening my car door and have had vehicles parked up against each other so that I have to walk around these instead of crossing over our easement to get to our laundry room. I have asked my HOA for "reasonable accomodations" and if they could change the rule of not having boats with trailers in carports. They have said they are in no way are obligated to do this since the owner owns his parking area. The HOA property is very small and would not be able to find me an assigned handicapped space close by for me this is why I have asked for reasonable accomodations, since I already have a parking space. In fact we have no readably handicapped spaces available for members or guests. Would I be covered under ADA even though it is private property. I believe this would not be a hardship for either the HOA or neighbor which besides the parking they are also blocking my storage closet and I have been renting one. Would ADA be able to cover me. I/ve tried Fair Housing Act, but the building is not multi-family dwelling 5+ units There are 4 condos per building x 88 in this HOA and I am worried for others as well that may encounter my problem later on.. What can I do, any suggestions? Thank you.
  • My wife and I live in a mobile home park that has the 80/20 split under HOPA rules for over 55 seniors. We live with my 86 year old and disabled mother and my 18 year old son who is her actual caregiver 90% of the time. The HOA here says no one under 21 and has asked him to move out even though he is very well liked and excellently behaved - an ADULT. Do I have a violation of the Fair Housing Act under non-accommodation? I was asked by the president of the board to explain our situation and his function in the household in a letter to the board which I did promptly but they have countered now with a hearing here in a couple of weeks.. As her live-in caregiver should he be allowed? My wife and I have our own infirmities and cannot help her very much. We rely on him to do almost all.
  • Can a Condo Board remove two handicapped parking spaces in a garage under a 24 Unit Bldg. in MA to either rent or sell them? They have been there since the building was constructed. The Master Deed gives each owner exclusive right to one parking space and also states any pkg.space for which an exclusive right and easement has not been assigned shall be available for occassional use by all unit owners or ocupants and their guests.The use of any such undesignated pkg,spaces shall be restricted, however, as provided by this Master Deed, the Condo Trusts, the by-laws of the condo Trusts, any any rules and regulations from time time in effect pursuant thereto. Would a handicap space be an assigned space, exclusive right and easement, available for occassional use by a handicapped owner or guest?
  • i LIVE IN CONDO IN NYC. MY FATHER WHO IS DISABLED HAS BEEN DENIED FOR DISABLED PARKING. INSTEAD THEY PLACED VISITORS PARKING ONLY IN MY PARKING LOT. AND NO DISABLED PARKING AT ALL. SO IF FILE THE COMPLANT WITH HUD WHAT ARE MY CHANCES TO GET THIS SPOT. PLEASE ADVICE ME IN THIS REGARD. THANKS ALIYA
  • I don't know if you will really reply but i am so desperate for help that maybe you can tell me where to go. We are shareholders in a coop in Rego Park NY...the property is a compound with 5 buildings, the guardhouse is almost 100 feet away from our building. My husband goes to dialysis and he has advanced Parkinson's disease, so he goes on a wheelchair. I am his wife and I am 69 yrs. old, I cannot push a wheelchair as I have back problems and glaucoma. So I pay $900 a month to hire an ambulette door to door. Now the coop changed their policy that they will no longer allow ambulettes to come inside because when they hang their christmas lihts on the bracket by the guardhouse there is a possibility that a higher van can hit the lights. No ambulette is willing to walk almost 100 feet to my building, go up to the 17th floor on pick-up and return for three days a week going to the dialysis center. How will I do this? I will be forced to go through 3 heavy doors and push the wheelchair all the way to the guardhouse where is vehicle is supposed to wait. It is too dangerous for me and my husband. I am so exhausted, please tell me where to get help for disabled people.