A shareholder in a co-op in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, has become disabled and now must use a cane and a walker. The entrance to the prewar building has three steps, and negotiating them is difficult and painful, though surgery might alleviate the problem. Meanwhile, is the co-op responsible for making the building entrance accessible to this shareholder – and to other disabled people?
The age and design of a building’s entrance do not exempt a co-op from federal, state, and city laws that protect people with disabilities, replies the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. The laws require co-op and condo boards and other building owners to make reasonable accommodations so their buildings are accessible to people with disabilities. (Single-family homeowners are exempt.) In the Boerum Hill co-op, a reasonable accommodation could be a ramp or a lift added to the entrance.
The city’s human-rights law goes further than state and federal laws, requiring property owners not only to make the accommodation, but to pay for it, too. City law covers recent and temporary disabilities, as well as permanent ones. So even if surgery might improve the shareholder’s mobility, the co-op board still needs to address the problem now.
For starters, the disabled shareholder should alert the building to the problem by submitting a written request to the co-op board and the managing agent for a reasonable accommodation. The letter should clearly state what is needed to improve access to the building. A lawyer who specializes in disability law could provide guidance.
If the shareholder were to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the law, the building could be investigated and found liable for penalties and damages. But such escalation may not be necessary – or wise. After all, the disabled shareholder would have to help pay any penalties or damages levied against the co-op. Better to be reasonable when seeking a reasonable accommodation.
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