On January 4, 2011, NTFHC received its first complaint of the New Year. A woman, who we’ll call Jane, contacted us in desperate need of assistance. Jane was a single elderly female, with a physical disability that kept her from being able to walk long distances. For nearly 4 months she has been requesting a reasonable accommodation; a handicap parking space designated specifically for her, in front of the walkway that leads to her unit. This request was repeatedly ignored by the on-site property manager, who we’ll call Kim.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a reasonable accommodation request must be linked to the person’s disability. In this case, because Jane could not walk long distances due to her physical handicap, her request was a handicap parking space designated specifically for her.
The Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
In case you are not familiar with the term “reasonable accommodation”, according to the Fair Housing Act:
A “reasonable accommodation” is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces. Since rules, policies, practices, and services may have a different effect on persons with disabilities than on other persons, treating persons with disabilities exactly the same as others will sometimes deny them an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
After hearing Jane’s story and assessing the facts, NTFHC became Jane’s advocate. Within 3 days we went to visit Jane and took pictures of the property. We uncovered that the current handicap designated parking spaces were being used as a storage space for building materials. We also noted that the nearest handicap designated space was over 25 feet from Jane’s unit.
Upon leaving, I sat in the parking lot and watched as an elderly man with a handicap placard on his car attempted to park in one of those spots without having the construction material scratch his car. Upon returning back to the office we located the owner of the property and the registered agent. NTFHC sent demand letters to the owner, registered agent and to Kim.
Within a matter of days we received a call from a bewildered registered agent, we’ll call him Carl. He stated that he could not believe this was going on and was furious with the on-site manager. He said he would get the matter resolved.
A couple of days later we receive a call from Jane stating that she was being harassed by Kim via phone and text message. This was not okay! We immediately contacted Carl and he was again repulsed by the actions of Kim. He contacted her and directed her not to have any further communication with Jane. A representative from the property management company, we’ll call her Lynn, became Jane’s new point of contact.
Another couple of days passed and on January 26 we received a letter from Carl stating what was going to be done to resolve Jane’s issues with a strict timeline. Not only would Jane be getting her designated parking spot but also a ramp from the sidewalk to the parking spot.
By January 28 the ramp and parking places were in place! The harassment from Kim also came to a halt. As a result of our intervention Jane’s four month battle finally ended. And just 20 days after she contacted the North Texas Fair Housing Center for help!