Enforcing the housing rights of people with disabilities

Access Living is one of the few Centers for Independent Living in the country with a Legal Department. Among other areas, attorneys who are part of the department work on fair housing cases. Two of the most common housing discrimination cases are: cases where people need wheelchair accessible parking spaces and cases in which people with mental illness are facing discriminatory evictions. With parking, accessible spots may not be readily available to people with disabilities. In the second case, people with psychiatric disabilities are sometimes discriminated against by landlords who try to illegally evict them because of their disability. In both cases, people with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations. Because of a lack of reasonable accommodations, people with disabilities are sometimes denied their right to live independently among people without disabilities. The Legal Department strives to help people with disabilities live independently.

At Access Living, after learning about situations that may involve discrimination based on disability, attorneys meet with potential clients, investigate their cases, and negotiate with the landlords. To avoid as much dispute as possible, attorneys initially send a letter to the owners. The letter will explain why the client may need accommodations, what the client’s rights are, and that accommodations would most likely be a reasonable expense. In doing this, Access Living hopes to receive a positive response. If none is received, the case will escalate further, sometimes to litigation.

Kim Borowicz has been a Staff Attorney at Access Living for four and half years. One of Kim’s clients, an elderly Polish-speaking woman who had severe back pain due to aging, had a parking space discrimination case that lasted for a couple of years. In this case, the woman qualified for an accessible parking space, but the parking space assigned to her condo was wedged between a brick wall and another car. The narrow spot prevented her from opening her car door all the way, and in turn, made it very difficult for her to get in and out of her car without hurting her back. To try to begin to resolve this case, Kim sent a letter to the condo association in hopes of reaching a compromise for reasonable accommodations for the woman.

Unfortunately, the condo association refused to accommodate. In May 2012, a federal lawsuit was filed. Access Living argued that the client had the right to an accessible spot, and that reasonable accommodations should be provided so that she could continue to live in her apartment. In early November, the case was settled. As a result of the settlement, the woman traded the garage parking spot in exchange for a more accessible space. When asked if the parking space settlement was considered a great victory for the disability community, Kim replied: “Definitely so. The client was so grateful to find Access Living to supply her with attorneys to resolve the issue. Access Living was the first organization to provide her with an interpreter, and an answer to her case.”

Congratulations to Kim and the Access Living Legal Department for implementing and enforcing the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Submitted by Breana Drozd, Access Living Public Relations Intern

1 Comments

  1. Debra I would like to know how I get an advocate to assist me in filing a lawsuit against the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Kenai Alaska for degrading me and denial of services.
    I would also like to file a lawsuit against HUD housing for evicting me on the grounds that I was not disabled, when I was and have been disabled for years. Due to my lack of knowledge and resources I was illegally evicted on false information. I have all of my doctors reports and my file on the eviction.
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