Condominium association pays $60,000 to disabled California man for failure to accommodate

Aldo J. Sartor, a disabled man from Oceanside, California, has received a $60,000 settlement from the San Miguel 1 Homeowners Association and its board of directors after the board voted to install an electronic security gate and failed to grant Sartor’s reasonable accommodation to include a fail-safe system in case of a power outage. The settlement, obtained by the United States Department of Justice, also requires the board to adopt new fair housing policies and distribute the policies to every employee and homeowner.

Sartor is a wheelchair user. He and his wife purchased a condominium at San Miguel Condominiums in 1985.

Association asked accessibility group for help but failed to follow group’s recommendation

In October 1993, the homeowners association contacted Accessible San Diego, a group that provides information and assistance regarding independent living for persons with disabilities. The association told Accessible San Diego that it was considering installing an electronic security  gate in the parking garage and wanted information on how to make such a gate accessible to persons with disabilities.

Accessible San Diego reviewed the association’s request and suggested in a letter that a backup power system be installed with the gate in case the main power ever failed. That way, persons with disabilities would still be able to exit the garage in an emergency. Prior to an October 13, 1993 board meeting, Sartor learned that the association planned to install the gate in the garage where it would block accessible entry and exit routes. He also learned that they had no plans to install the fail-safe system recommended by Accessible San Diego.

At the board meeting, Sartor presented a letter to the association and read it aloud. He requested, as a reasonable accommodation, that the gate not be installed in the garage. He told the board members that in a power outage or in an instance where the gate was broken, he would not be able to get out of the complex.

The association’s attorney sent Sartor a letter on October 26, 1993, denying his reasonable accommodation request. The letter stated that the installation of the gate did “not significantly negatively impact” Sartor’s ability to enter and exit the garage. The letter also stated that it was a demand for Sartor to stop “disrupting Board meetings and physically accosting Board members.” The letter threatened a restraining order against Sartor if he continued to allegedly harass board members.

After the denial of his request, Sartor sent a letter to all San Miguel homeowners on November 1, 1993, expressing his concerns about the gate. He proposed in this letter that if the gate were to be installed that it should be installed next to an elevator lobby, which would allow an escape route for persons with disabilities.

DOJ: Association took no steps to ensure gate’s accessibility to disabled homeowners

On November 7, 1993, the association installed the gate over Sartor’s objections in its originally proposed inaccessible location and without a fail-safe system. According to the Justice Department complaint, the association took no steps at all to ensure that persons with disabilities would be accommodated in an emergency.

Shortly after the installation of the gate, Sartor and his wife sold their condominium, citing the belief that Sartor would not be safe in his home in case of an emergency. On January 20, 1994, Sartor filed a complaint with HUD. It alleged that the association had discriminated
against him by failing to make a reasonable accommodation. In February 2001, while the complaint was still pending, Sartor amended his complaint to allege intimidation and interference with his fair housing rights.

On September 27, 2001, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination. HUD amended that charge on October 18, 2001. Sartor elected to have his complaint heard in federal district court, and on January 25, 2002, the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit on Sartor’s behalf. After approximately
a year of litigation, the defendants agreed to settle. The office of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam handled this case in federal court.

U.S. v. San Miguel 1 Homeowners Assn.
Case No. 02cv0161-IEG (S.D. Cal.)
The Honorable Irma E. Gonzalez, U.S. District Judge
HUD Complaint filed: January 20, 1994
HUD Charge Issued: September 27, 2001
Federal Complaint filed: January 25, 2002
Consent Decree approved: February 26, 2003