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Owners must help disabled upon request.

Owners must help disabled upon request

A ruling by the New York City Human Rights Commission could force owners to spend thousands of dollars on improvements to their buildings.

The decision, regarding the Bell Park Gardens co-op in Bayside, Queens, means that should an apartment building owner or co-operative have a tenant who is handicapped, physical changes must be made to the premises to accommodate their needs as reasonably requested.

"One again you have unelected bureaucrats making a law that will have incredible negative impact on the City of New York," said an angry John J. Gilbert III, executive director of the Rent Stabilization Association.

Lonnie Soury, a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission said "They can't unduly discriminate against a request by a disabled person. If somebody is disabled and can't get down the stairs, and there is no undue hardship, then they must (provide a ramp).

In this case, Soury said, the co-op refused all requests from disabled tenants and did not consider them on their merits. The primary case involved a disabled woman who had to construct two ramps at her own expense to get up two stairs to her unit. The original complaint was settled when Bell Park Gardens agreed to construct a ramp, however, the enforcement bureau continued to prosecute the case to force the co-op to change its policy.

"It's a part of what we believe is an effort to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants," Soury said. "If it means a handrail, ramp, or some other modifications that are not deemed to cause undue hardship for a landlord, then we encourage them to go ahead and to them.

"If they can prove it would cause undue hardship, then they would have an appeal," he added.

In most cases, Soury said, an 800-unit co-op, such as this one, has the resources to put in a ramp for a disabled person. "An owner of a two-family house would not be asked to install an elevator, but what is reasonable," he said. "Constructing something to assist a person down the stairs would be reasonable."

The ruling will require every owner to actually make improvements to their buildings if they have handicap tenants, Gilbert said. "Certainly it will be very costly to property owners and push owners to the brink of abandonment," Gilbert declared.

"They're saying |we're not going to put owners out of business' but it's analogous to saying to a butcher, |you have to give lower food prices to people who are poor or, if someone has a disability, you have to deliver to their door," Gilbert explained.

The Human Rights Commission oversees all employers, property renters and service providers to ensure they do not discriminate, Soury said. The Human Rights Law would be used to enforce compliance and issue orders for monetary damages. Compensatory damages are unlimited, he said, and while a regular civil fines ranges up to $50,000, Soury said they can go to $100,000 where the conduct is willful.

"Your are asking owners to shoulder the costs of a significant public policy and you are going to drive more of those owners out of business," Gilbert added. "You will end up with less (housing) than what you are trying to save.

Martin S. Kera, a partner in Kera & Graubard, who represents owners, co-ops, and apartment buildings said this decision is going to make it more expensive for a co-op or any other building. "It's necessary to have these rules for the handicapped but unfortunately, very expensive to comply with." Kera said you cannot just build a ramp, but rather you must pay an architect to change the front of the building, file building plans and have it approved by the city. "A ramp may cost $10,000 depending on how they do it. Sometimes you have to go along side the building and remove shrubbery." Buildings are hard pressed now for real estate taxes and water and sewer charges, he added.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 17, 1991
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