Disabled Virginia man wins $65,000 settlement in accessible parking space dispute with condo board

A disabled Virginia man won a $65,000 settlement against a condominium complex where administrators allegedly refused to allow a reasonable accommodation in the form of a reserved parking space close to his unit. Albert Leahy, who uses a wheelchair, obtained the June settlement with help from the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington.

According to the settlement agreement, the owners and managers of Alexandria Knolls West admit no wrongdoing but will pay Albert Leahy, $43,000, the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington $20,000, and Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. $2,000. The Virginia Attorney General's office sued on behalf of the couple and negotiated the settlement.

Couple had trouble finding accessible condo

According to the Washington Post, in the fall of 1996, Albert Leahy and his wife began their search for a home. Most of the condominiums they looked at were too small, or needed too much work to make them accessible for Albert, who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair, according to his wife, Andrea.

Albert and Andrea Leahy looked for a condominium for several months. Their real estate agent from Long and Foster assisted them with the search. When Albert and Andrea Leahy found Alexandria Knolls West, they said that it was perfect for them, exceptfor the distance of their parking space and a speed bump in the path between the space and their condominium.

Condo managers said that they could not give disabled man a parking space closer to his unit

The couple asked the complex managers if they could switch parking spaces with another condo owner or work out another type of arrangement. They asked if administrators could convert a loading zone near their condo into accessible parking. A letter informed them that managers had removed the speed bump, but that the condominium could not accommodate their request.

"They did not want to deal with us at all," Andrea Leahy told the Washington Post. "They did not want to meet with us."

The Leahys and their real estate agent turned to the Fair Housing Council, which investigated their complaint. According to David Berenbaum, the Fair Housing Council's executive director, condominium officials said that the parking spaces were in a common area, and that their own set of bylaws governed them.

Berenbaum said that the administrators at Alexandria Knolls told him that they believed the federal Fair Housing Act did not apply to condominiums in cases like this one.

"We took major exception to all of this," Berenbaum told the Washington Post in an interview. "The case law has been very strong and very clear thatt hese kinds of dwellings were intended to be covered, specifically to the issue of handicapped parking."

The Fair Housing Council tried to settle the matter before filing a lawsuit, but then had to ask the attorney general's office to intervene. On April 1, after reviewing the situation, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley gave his staff the go-ahead to file acivil action against the condominium's association, its board of directors, and its building manager.

In June, Earley's office announced that they had reached a settlement in the case. A spokesperson for Earley's office said that the Virginia Attorney General was committed to fighting discrimination in housing.

Defendants will write letter of apology to couple

In addition to the monetary settlement achieved, the settlement agreement required that condominium officials issue a written apology to the Leahys and their real estate agent, develop a written policy governing future requests for reasonable accommodations by persons with disabilities, and undertake training in state and federal fair housing laws.

Albert and Andrea Leahy told the Washington Post that they fought for a parking space because it was the right thing to do. They wanted to prevent discrimination against others. "We were not in it for the money," said Andrea Leahy, adding that if they had been, they would have hired a lawyer.