Late in 2011, a couple living in a condominium on Chicago’s north side contacted Access Living over a problem with a chair lift. The husband and wife, both seniors, lived within a courtyard occupied by their town house and several other homes. The wife has Multiple Sclerosis, which had recently advanced to a point in which she required a wheelchair for mobility. Though the couple could navigate the one step in and out of their town house, the courtyard had four steps leading from the front and rear entrance. Despite the courtyard’s inaccessibility, the couple didn’t want to move. They had lived in the condo for many years and wanted to spend the rest of their lives there. In an effort to make the courtyard accessible, the couple hired a contractor. The contractor installed a lift at the rear entrance. Although the woman, as someone with a disability, had the right to pursue a home modification, proper approval was never secured with the condominium association. In order to enforce their housing rights, homeowners and renters with disabilities are required to work with housing providers and receive approval for accommodations and modifications. Of course, if a housing provider refuses an accessibility request, individuals can pursue further action. But in this case, the association never had the opportunity to review the plans or authorize the lift. Soon after the lift was installed, the couple learned that the lift violated fire code. As a result, the condo association was forced to remove the lift. Without a lift to access the courtyard, the woman was homebound, unable to travel to and from her home because of the steps.
The happy couple atop the newly installed lift.
After the lift was removed, in a panic, the couple contacted Access Living. The case was assigned to Kim Borowicz, Access Living’s Staff Attorney. Working on the case, Kim quickly established lines of communication between the couple and the condo association. Because of prior experience, both parties were hesitant at first. But the couple and the condo board began to work together in order to find a solution.
The lift contractor, Extended Home Living, drafted new plans for a lift at the front entrance of the courtyard. Kim shared the drawings with the Condominium Association, which approved the plans, allowing the process to move forward. With plans that were agreed upon both by the residents and by the condo association, Extended Home Living had the green light to install the lift.
Today, with the lift installed, the husband and wife can travel independently to and from their home. “This is a great fair housing victory” said Kim. “The couple gets to stay where they have lived for years and they can age in place.” Fair housing law guided the course of action, but the success of the outcome centered on communication. “I applaud both parties for working together in order to reach an agreement. And I applaud Extended Home Living for their patience and for their commitment to working with us until the issue was resolved.”
In the end, the lift is not only a benefit for this couple. Because the lift was installed in the public courtyard, other residents will have the opportunity to age in place. “In terms of access,” Kim went on to say, “what is good for one person is often good for everyone.”