Disabled VA man wins $65,000 in parking space dispute

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

Accordingto the settlement agreement, the owners and managers of Alexandria Knolls West admit nowrongdoing but will pay Albert Leahy, $43,000, the Fair Housing Council of GreaterWashington $20,000, and Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. $2,000. The Virginia AttorneyGeneral'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 wifebegan their search for a home. Most of the condominiums they looked at were too small, orneeded too much work to make them accessible for Albert, who is paralyzed from the waistdown and uses a wheelchair, according to his wife, Andrea.

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

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

The couple asked the complex managers if they could switch parking spaces withanother condo owner or work out another type of arrangement. They asked if administratorscould convert a loading zone near their condo into accessible parking, but were denied. Aletter informed them that managers had removed the speed bump, but that the condominiumcould not accommodate their request.

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

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

Berenbaum said that the administrators at Alexandria Knolls told him that they believedthe 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 WashingtonPost in an interview. "The case law has been very strong and very clear thatthese kinds of dwellings were intended to be covered, specifically to the issue ofhandicapped parking."

The Fair Housing Council tried to settle the matter before filing a lawsuit, but thenhad to ask the attorney general's office to intervene. On April 1, after reviewing thesituation, 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 itsbuilding manager.

In June, Earley's office announced that they had reached a settlement in the case. Aspokesperson for Earley's office said that the Virgina Attorney General was committed tofighting discrimination in housing.

Defendants will write letter of apology to couple

In addition to the monetary settlement achieved, the settlement agreement required thatcondominium officials issue a written apology to the Leahys and their real estate agent,develop a written policy governing future requests for reasonable accommodations bypersons 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 parkingspace because it was the right thing to do. They wanted to prevent discrimination againstothers. "We were not in it for the money," said Andrea Leahy, adding that ifthey had been, they would have hired a lawyer.