Owner Didn't Make Reasonable Accommodation
Facts: A resident who was living on the third floor of a building that did not have an elevator gave the site manager a note from her physician, requesting that she be moved to any available first-floor unit because her physical condition prevented her from engaging in strenuous activity. The resident claimed to suffer from a variety of medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, depression, and asthma. Over the next few years, the resident made numerous oral requests to rent a first-floor unit in exchange for her unit on the third floor.
While still living on the third floor, the resident fell near the stairs in a common area outside of her unit. Before the fall, the resident had made several trips up and down the stairs and ran several errands throughout the day, which she claimed eventually caused fatigue, leading to her fall. She was taken to a hospital and eventually underwent an amputation of her left leg from a point above her knee, allegedly stemming from injuries and complications arising from her fall.
Two units were available for occupancy on the first floor between the resident's initial request for a transfer and the date of her fall. One unit, which became available twice, was reserved for wheelchair-bound residents, and in both situations, a wheelchair-bound resident moved into the unit.
The resident sued the site owner for discrimination under federal disability laws, arguing that she was disabled because her impairments substantially limit major life activities. The resident asked the court to rule that the owner should have reasonably accommodated her disability by moving her into a first-floor unit.
Decision: The court sided with the resident, and ordered the owner to accommodate her disability.
Reasoning: At all times leading up to her fall, the court noted, the resident had to stop and rest after walking one-half block due to her shortness of breath, and it took her approximately 30 minutes to ascend two flights of stairs. She took breaks every six to seven steps. This evidence showed that the resident was substantially limited in major life activities such as walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, and caring for herself—that is, she met the definition of an individual with disabilities.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, the court noted, persons providing public accommodations, programs receiving federal funds, and housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability or handicap.
The site owner did not reasonably accommodate the resident, the court concluded, because a first-floor unit had been available during the time when site management had notice of the resident's request for a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
- Solivan v. Valley Housing Development Corp., November 2009