Q&A—Ronald Perl

Q A resident needs to have a chair rail installed so she can access her second  floor apartment in our condo building, built in the 1950s. Who pays for the  chair rail and the installation, the resident or the condo association?  

 — Curious Board Member

A Whether a community association is required to expend funds to construct a chair  lift in order accommodate a disabled member must be analyzed under federal,  state and local laws. For purposes of this response, we will only address the  federal law governing this issue.  

 Generally, community associations are subject to The Fair Housing Amend-ments  Act of 1988 (FHAA). The FHAA protects handicapped residents, which is defined by the law as a physical or mental impairment substantially  limiting a major life activity. The FHAA includes a requirement that  associations allow reasonable modifications to the existing premises, at the  resident's expense, if such modifications may be necessary to afford a  handicapped person full enjoyment of the premises. However, an accommodation/modification which materially interferes with or  burdens the rights of the other members is not required.  

 In Thompson v. Westboro Condo-minium Association, decided in 2006, the court  held that the FHAA does not require a condominium association to construct a  disability access ramp at its expense. In Thompson, a disabled resident requested that the association construct a  wheelchair/scooter ramp to permit access. The association agreed that she could  install a ramp at her own expense. The court determined that an association is not required to construct new  facilities to accommodate a disabled resident. While an association is  generally required to permit a disabled member to modify common elements to  make them more accessible, it may wish to consider performing and overseeing  the construction to ensure modifications are in accordance with the law. However, prior to any action being taken by an association, a written agreement  should be obtained. It is important to reiterate that state and local laws vary  and may result in a different answer. The association should always consult with their local counsel when questions  exist with regard to requests for accommodation.  

 — Ronald  L. Perl, Esq.

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