Under an agreement negotiated by the Division, the Avery Apartments, a 302-unit townhome-style rental complex located in Willingboro, paid the settlement to a tenant described as having numerous medical conditions that limit her mobility, and which qualify her as disabled under the law.
“The message to landlords here is that a reserved parking space for the disabled is not some luxury feature you can put up for sale,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Hopefully, this case will serve as a reminder to housing providers statewide that we take seriously any failure to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities, and will hold accountable any landlord who violates laws designed to protect them.”
“A tenant with a disability may be responsible for the actual costs of a requested structural modification needed within his or her rental unit,” said Division Director Craig Sashihara. “But in the same way a store owner can’t charge customers with disabilities extra to park in handicapped spots, landlords can’t impose surcharges on tenants with disabilities who require closer parking to use and enjoy their home.”
The Avery Apartments case involves a female tenant whose name is being withheld to protect her medical privacy. The tenant suffers from coronary artery disease, arthritis in her hip, gait disorder and a condition known medically as nyctalopia — a type of vision impairment commonly referred to as “night blindness.”
The tenant possesses a State-issued handicapped parking placard, and her physician wrote a letter to Avery’s management in 2014 opining that she is in fact disabled. Despite such supporting documentation, the woman learned by e-mail in July 2015 – approximately a year after Avery’s management had assigned her a reserved parking space in front of her apartment at her request — that she and any other tenant seeking such an accommodation would, going forward, be charged $100 monthly beginning with the renewal of their leases.
During the Division’s investigation, an attorney for Avery advised investigators that $100 was “a fair and appropriate amount” to charge the woman because management needed to be compensated for its “time and effort” in making certain that specially- reserved parking spaces were available to tenants who needed them, and were not parked in by other tenants.
In addition, Avery management asserted that, in its view, the woman central to the Division’s investigation was not truly disabled, because she’d been observed “walking about her property” on occasion, and also because she’d “chosen to reside in a two-story apartment, which begins on the second floor.” Avery also contended that the woman did not possess an official, State-provided handicapped parking placard.
The Division issued a Finding of Probable Cause (FPC) against Avery in January of 2016. In the FPC, Director Sashihara observed that neither state nor federal law supports requiring a person with a disability to pay for a disabled parking accommodation. The FPC also noted that, despite Avery management’s assertion that the woman did not possess a State-issued handicapped parking credential, the Division had confirmed that she did, in fact, possess an official handicapped parking placard.
In addition, the FPC noted that, despite Avery’s position with respect to the woman’s disability status, the Division had spoken directly with her doctor and accepted his medical opinion that she was disabled, and that walking was a danger for her.
During its investigation, the Division learned that the woman at issue was one of five Avery tenants with a reserved parking space because of a disability. All five were being charged $100 per month for their space. Under terms of the settlement, all five are being reimbursed. Also, the settlement contains a provision for Division monitoring of Avery’s practices with regard to tenant requests for reasonable accommodation for a period of two years.
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