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United States of America v. Port Liberte Condo I Association

2005 WL 3500801 (U.S. Dist. Ct. D. N.J. 2005) (Unpublished)

CONDOMINIUMS; FAIR HOUSING ACT; DISCRIMINATION—Although the Fair Housing Act, in certain circumstances, may entitle a handicapped tenant to a reserved parking space adjacent to the tenant’s dwelling, such a space is required only where it is necessary for the tenant to use and enjoy his or her dwelling, not where it is simply more convenient.

A buyer moved into a condominium complex and parked his car in the space assigned to his unit. Four years later, he moved to another unit in a different building with a different assigned parking space. Nonetheless, at the time, he maintained control of the original space because his son still owned the original unit. Using his control of that unit’s parking space, he arranged to exchange it with another resident for a particular handicap space that was located directly adjacent to the entrance of the building in which he now lived. Ten months later, his son sold the original condominium unit. He and his son claimed that the buyer of the “old” unit, by terms of the sale, would use the parking space that was associated with the “new” unit instead of the space that was originally assigned to the “old” unit. Accordingly, under this arrangement, this meant that the man could continue the agreement that allowed him to use the handicap space near his building’s entrance in exchange for the space that was originally designated to go with the “old” unit. Shortly after the son sold the unit, the new buyer complained to the association and requested use of the originally designated space. The association “responded by ordering all residents to use the parking spaces assigned to the units in which they live[d].” Under this edict, the buyer of the son’s unit gained the use of the original space and the son’s father had to use the space that was assigned to the unit he owned instead of the handicap space that he had arranged to use.

The man “then formally requested that he be assigned a handicap parking space.” When the association “allegedly failed to assign him a handicap space,” he filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The association alleged “that it solicited requests for handicap spaces from all residents and assigned such spaces on the basis of need and seniority.” According to the association, “all handicap residents were assigned a handicap space but preference was given to those residents who had lived in the complex for the longest amount of time. Thus, a more senior resident, ..., received [the space that the man wanted to use and had been using prior to this reassignment]” and he was assigned a different space. The man contended that his space was sixty to seventy feet further from the entrance to the building than the one he had been forced to give up.

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) it is “unlawful to either: (1) ‘discriminate in the sale or rental [of], or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling [,]’ to a handicapped person ... or (2) ‘discriminate against any [handicapped] person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling’ ... .” Discrimination includes “a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford [a disabled] person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” A “reasonable accommodation inquiry is highly fact-specific, requiring a case-by-case determination.” Although “[i]t has been recognized on numerous occasions that the FHA may, in certain cases, entitle a handicapped tenant to a reserved parking space adjacent to the tenant’s dwelling. ... However, such a space is required only where it is necessary for the tenant to use and enjoy his dwelling, not where it is simply more convenient. In addition, the requested accommodation must be reasonable in that it must not pose an undue burden on the defendant.”

All parties agreed that the man was disabled, but the extent of his disability was unclear. The association alleged that it had a video from a surveillance camera showing the man “walking to and from his car with ease.” In response, the man claimed that “his condition varie[d] from day to day and that on some days he [was] severely limited, thereby making the walk from [the association-designated space] very painful.” The Court would not determine the extent of the man’s disability or the reasonableness of his request on a motion for summary judgment. Therefore, a hearing was ordered to be held. On the other hand, it pointed out that the association’s burden in accommodating the man might be trivial. The association did not show that accommodating the man “would present it with an undue burden.” The Court wondered why the association could not “simply repaint the lines in the parking garage, at minimal cost, thereby creating an additional handicap space adjacent” to the man’s building, “and shift several other tenants down one space in order to provide [the man] with a space that [was] close to his entrance.”

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