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NYC Condo Board Rejects Wheelchair Lift for Cerebral Palsy Girl

Frank Lovece in Board Operations

The reasons why keep changing, Maria Stasinski says. First the board said the wheelchair lift would both ruin "the integrity" of the complex and be a liability, though it declined to say how. Later, the board claimed it was rejecting the lift since the device would be in a common area.

Back of the Bus

The board did give approval for the lift at the home's back door — which Stasinski says isn't cleared when it snows, and which relegates her daughter Giuliana to the type of second-class-citizen discrimination as when African-Americans were only allowed to use back entrances – of businesses, and not their own homes.

"My backyard is considered a common area, too," Stasinski, 37, tells Habitat, "so what's the difference in front or in back?" As for liability, "Isn't [a wheelchair lift] safer that taking a wheelchair with a 50-pound child up and down wet or icy steps?"

The condo association would bear no cost for the lift or its installation, both of which are being donated by the Staten Island-based charitable organization the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation. "I just don't understand why they wouldn't let them put it in," Paul Quattrocch, an Atlas board member, told the New York Daily News. "We've never experienced that, and we put in many [wheelchair lifts]."

"The condo association does have the right to object to someone changing the exterior of the home for cosmetic purposes without [its] approval," Tom Aiello, another Atlas member, told the Staten Island Advance at a May 5 rally at the Stasinskis' townhouse, which has a private front door at the end of some steps, alongside some shrubbery that would hide the wheelchair lift. "But this is not for cosmetic purposes, this is for the welfare of a child."

Board Makes it Personal

That seems to matter little to the condo board, which, Stasinski says, has engaged in personal sniping. "One member told us that, knowing we had a child with special needs, we should have a bought a single-family home somewhere else. When we got the place three years ago, I didn’t know my daughter couldn't walk!"

The board's attorney, Richard M. Gabor, a partner in the law firm Gabor & Marotta, did not respond to e-mail and telephone requests for comment.

As it now stands, Stasinski struggles up to several times a day with Giuliana and the 150-pound wheelchair, which Stasinski pulls up and carefully lowers down the steps in front or her door.

"When it's icy, I can't go down the stairs with the wheelchair," she says.  "I get people saying, 'Why don’t you bring the  wheelchair down first?'" – leaving her disabled daughter unattended inside or sitting on the floor by the door while she does so.

Leonard Mazzarisi, Jr., the Stasinskis' attorney, believes the condo board is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The family is willing to go to court.

What Other Boards Have Done

In similar situations, some co-op / condo boards have reachd reasonable compromise by having the resident sign a liability waiver, veteran real-estate attorneys say.

But the hard line taken by the Stasinskis' board echoes that taken around the country by some boards that object to even the American flag as something that mars the aesthetics of a co-op, condo or, in the case of homeowners associations, neighborhood. And many boards prove remarkably intransigent when it comes to their disabled residents.

The Solaire condominiums in downtown Orlando, Fla., for example, painted over all six handicap spaces in its parking garage to add regular parking spaces. An HOA in Greenville, NC, forced out a couple who had a 21-pound, doctor-verified service dog. A condo board outside Chicago has been trying to oust a blind owner because of his Seeing Eye dog. Even disabled war veterans have had to fight their boards over the most minuscule accommodations.

For a family dealing with the extraordinary challenges of raising a disabled child, and trying to get her out in the world, to art-therapy classes and elsewhere, this hard-hearted board's uncompromising stance is only the latest struggle in the Stasinskis' lives.

Today, says Maria Stasinski, "is my son's anniversary. He was a stillbirth. He's been gone six years today."


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