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Access for Wheelchair Users

Special needs. Making “reasonable accommodations” for shareholders with disabilities is different in every. While boards may be familiar with requests for service or emotional support animals, wheelchair users can bring with them a unique set of requirements.

Hold on. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the standard for “reasonableness” is up to each board. Additionally, who pays for what is usually clearly defined: If residents want to make changes inside their apartments, the burden of cost is going to fall on them. For example, installing grab bars in an apartment’s bathroom or lowering kitchen cabinets — both of which are considered reasonable accommodation by the Department  of Housing and Urban Development — would be paid for by the shareholder.

Alternate solutions. While boards are responsible for accommodations in common areas — including ensuring access when there are stairs at the entrance or lobby — they do have discretion on how to do it. “Somebody in a wheelchair needs reasonable access; that doesn’t mean they can dictate exactly what they want it to be,” says Theresa Racht, principal at Theresa Racht, Esq. Instead of installing, say, a permanent ramp outdoors or in the lobby, buildings with a doorman can elect to have a portable ramp that can be brought out as needed.

On the level. Some accommodations, however, are trickier. “Laundry rooms can be an issue,” says Ira Meister, the president of Matthew Adam Property. “In some buildings we’ve installed washing machines basically at floor level.” Common-area gardens and public outdoor spaces must also be made accessible, often by widening paths and stabilizing gravel surfaces.

Change of mind. In some cases, accommodations may require a change in building policies. Any rules about motorized vehicles in common areas, such as banning mopeds or electric scooters, would have to have an exception for motorized wheelchairs in order to avoid discrimination claims.

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