HABITAT

CHURCHVILLE GREENE V. DISABLED

Churchville Greene v. Disabled

Disabled-Lawsuit-Habitat

June 23, 2011— May unit-owners recover damages when a co-op board or a condo association won't allow their disabled visitors to park in a no-parking area close to their home? How about when the co-op board or condo association permits the owners to install a wheelchair-aiding concrete pad at their door only after the court intervenes? The answer to these two questions may inform your own, hopefully sensible and humane decisions regarding disabled co-op shareholders or condo unit-owners.

Michael and Tina Carpenter were a married couple who both had severe disabilities that required them to use motorized wheelchairs. They purchased their home in the Churchville Greene housing development in Churchville, N.Y., in 2000. As residents of the development, the Carpenters were members of the Churchville Greene Homeowners' Association Inc., which was governed by a board of directors.

The Carpenters claimed that the HOA did not permit parking on the private roads in the development and that the homeowners' guests were required to park in a "remote parking lot." The Carpenters claimed that, on many occasions, they had guests who were incapable of walking the distance from the parking lot to their home because of mobility disabilities. The Carpenters had, on several occasions, instructed their guests to park on the private road in front of their home. The Carpenters received warning letters from the HOA regarding their failure to follow the no-parking rule. They claimed they were unable to have mobility-disabled guests at their home as a result.

Uneven Enforcement of Its "Rules"

In July 2009, the Carpenters requested that the HOA provide a variance from the no-parking rule. But the HOA, the couple claimed, decided that due to fire-safety concerns the only accommodation it could provide was to designate two handicapped parking spots in the parking lot. The Carpenters alleged this was not a reasonable accommodation, as the parking lot was too far away for disabled guests. They also claimed the HOA enforced the parking regulation unevenly and that the HOA held a yearly community function where many vehicles were permitted to park on the street.

Based on their claim that they were denied a reasonable accommodation in parking, the Carpenters filed a lawsuit against the HOA, its board of directors, and its managing agent, Realty Performance Group, citing both the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act to claim they were being discriminated against in housing because of their disabilities.

Delaying Tactics

Within a few weeks of filing, a dispute arose between the parties regarding a modification to the Carpenters' home. While the couple was making HOA-approved improvements to their home, their contractor offered to replace broken paving stones in the yard to make it easier to access their home by wheelchair.

The Carpenters requested a variance from the HOA to allow them to replace the paving stones with a concrete pad. The HOA board voted initially to deny the request, pending its receipt of more information. The parties' attorneys then attempted to resolve the issue. Finally, the attorney for the Carpenters sent the court a letter detailing the issue and asking the court to intervene because if the weather turned cold, the concrete pad could not be installed. The Carpenters claimed the HOA improperly delayed installation. The HOA maintained that it had not denied the request but was merely seeking further information and help from a local architect who had assisted the HOA with other projects. The court discussed the matter with the parties and ordered the contractor to complete the installation.

Concrete Resolution

The court stated: "Given the circumstances, and the presumed willingness of the [HOA] to accommodate a reasonable request to satisfy the needs of the homeowners ... I directed the contractor to proceed and complete the job." The court also stated that even though the parking claim remained pending, the collateral issue of the concrete pad had been fully resolved.

The court next discussed the remaining claims. The applicable statute stated that when facts are unavailable to a non-moving party, the court could allow that party to obtain discovery. The court explained the court requirements on this point: The party resisting summary judgment on the ground that it needed discovery had to show what facts it sought, how they were to be obtained, how they were expected to create a genuine issue of material fact, what effort was used to obtain the facts, and why the party was unable to obtain the facts.

Next page: What the Carpenters Needed to Build a Case >>

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