My mother had a stroke recently and now requires a wheelchair, and she lives on the second floor of a building with no elevator. We're looking to get a lift installed for her, but a board member said the association may not cover it. Isn't the association obligated to some extent to accommodate a person with disabilities?
—Paying it Forward
“The Fair Housing Act requires the association to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be reasonably necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling,” says Russell Robbins of the law firm of Mirza Basulto & Robbins, LLP in Coral Springs. “It seems clear from the fact pattern, the unit owner (or occupant) has a disability that has confined them to a wheelchair, and they are unable to use and enjoy the property without the benefit of a chair lift or elevator. However, while the association is required to grant reasonable accommodations, it is highly unlikely that the association would be required to install a chair lift or elevator based upon the undue financial burden the cost of such an improvement.
“However, if the unit owner wished to install such improvement on the common elements, at no expense to the association, and the cost of such improvement (and the maintenance thereof) would be borne by the affected unit owner, then it may constitute a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. Typically the association may be asked to install a wheelchair ramp, and such improvement may benefit other disabled unit owners and/or occupants.
“Since the cost of that type of improvement is far less and can benefit other individuals, the association may be required to install same, at its expense, as a reasonable accommodation to disabled unit owners and/or occupants. The Fair Housing Act provides for penalties for associations for discriminatory conduct or failure to reasonably accommodate a unit owner/occupant with a disability. Extreme caution should be utilized prior to refusing any request for a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, and such decision should be discussed with the association’s attorney, in depth, before a final decision is rendered.”