California Woman Wins $60,000 and Right to Ramp

An out of court settlement of $60,000 for a woman in a wheelchair was reached after she filed a private lawsuit against the Homeowners Association of the Larkspur Isle Condominiums in Larkspur, California. The plaintiff decided to sue the Homeowners Association after they denied her the right to make reasonable modifications to her rental unit to accommodate her physical disability.

The woman had rented the apartment from the owner, Ecumenical Association for Housing. In August of 1991, the young woman, requested permission from the Larkspur Isle Homeowners Association to build a ramp at her cost to provide wheelchair access to her unit.

The Association denied her request for a permanent wheelchair ramp. After paying rent on the unit for three months without being able to use it, the woman installed a temporary wheelchair ramp. The Association ordered her to remove it because "ramps displace landscape."

In addition to refusing to approve a ramp for the unit, the condominium complex was not accessible to the disabled in several other ways. Many of the walkways were too narrow for the wheels of a wheelchair.

There was no ramp into the clubhouse of the complex, which meant that the young woman could not use the recreation room or the weight room, or entertain friends at the clubhouse. She could not attend meetings of the Homeowners Association, to which she was entitled as a tenant. Since there were several people living at the complex who were disabled, this was a hardship for more than herself. The young woman filed a complaint of disability discrimination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1992.

When a HUD investigation found cause for disability discrimination, the case was referred to the Justice Department for trial in U.S. District Court. Chris Brancart a private attorney, intervened to represent the young woman.

The Fair Housing Program worked with the young woman and another wheelchair-bound tenant to persuade the Homeowners Association to allow installation of a ramp and other accessibility changes. The Fair Housing Program also worked with the City of Larkspur to encourage accessibility at Larkspur Isle. Nancy Kenyon, the Director of the Fair Housing Program notes, "We are gratified by this award, and in great admiration of the courage and fortitude exhibited by this young disabled woman. Had it not been for her, physically disabled people who live or want to live at Larkspur Isle would not be treated as equal to other tenants. We are all `temporarily abled' and there must be room in our society and our housing for everyone."

In addition to the $60,000 monetary award, the settlement requires that the property be inspected for accessibility. The members of the Homeowners Association must abide by established procedures in dealing with accessibility requests. The members of the Homeowners Association must attend training in fair housing by the Fair Housing Program.

from May 1995 Advocate