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Does Landlord Have to Install a Ramp for a Tenant's Disabled Guest?

July 2014:  This post originally appeared on the LandlordsNY blog, where Michelle Maratto Itkowitz is the legal expert.

Hi, Michelle here. I am the LandlordsNY Legal Expert. My goal is to post in the blog all of the questions I get from LandlordsNY members and my answers thereto, when I think that such questions and answers would be of interest to other people. This is the third such post. Let me know if this is helpful.  This answer was provided by my partner – Jay Itkowitz.

Question Summary: Brother staying with Rent Stabilized tenant for two weeks. Brother in a wheel chair, in town for treatments for MS. There is no handicapped access to the building. No other tenants that require it. Tenant wants a key to service ramp. Landlord said – just call us, we will provide access when you need it. Tenant contacted HPD and filed a complaint against Landlord for "not providing a key for access to building entrance". Does Landlord have to install a ramp?

Answer:  As this is a temporary situation, prudence would suggest you do everything possible to avoid a fight with the tenant in this situation. The reason is that a tenant aggrieved by a failure to accommodate the disabled faces a potential litany of expensive litigation. The tenant can file a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission, the New York State Division of Human Rights, can file a complaint in Supreme Court and more importantly federal court. Courts and agencies are generally unsympathetic to owners complaints of expense and inconvenience on its part in refusing to make “reasonable accommodations” to those with legitimate disabilities.

Specifically, on May 24, 2011 new regulations were promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the regulatory body charged with implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which went into effect broadening the scope of what could qualify as a disabling condition under the ADA. Here, of course, there is no question that a person suffering from MS would qualify as disabled so we need not discuss whether the person falls under the protection of the statute. According to the interpretive guidance to the new regulations, their intended effect is to shift the focus from the question of whether the complainant in fact suffers from a “disability” to whether obligated parties met their obligations in “reasonably accommodating” the complainant after engaging in an “interactive process”.

The passage of these new regulations also has implications for disability discrimination claims brought under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) because courts and administrative judges routinely refer to ADA discrimination cases to inform decisions under the FHA. Thus, it behooves owners and managing agents to have in place a procedure to field requests for reasonable accommodation and to initiate an ongoing interactive process with the requesting party.

With the passage of the EEOC’s new rule that broadens the definition of “disability”, the incentive has never been greater for landlords to implement procedures that...READ MORE...

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