Wheelchair user was denied reasonable accommodations
Chicago - Today, Allison Kessler, a 25-year-old medical student who uses a wheelchair, filed a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois against a condominium association in Chicago's Streeterville Neighborhood. The complaint alleges that the 401 East Ontario Condominium Association refused to provide reasonable accommodations and also retaliated against the 25-year-old woman's attempts to assert her right to an accommodation.
Like many other residents at 401 East Ontario, Ms. Kessler owns a dog. Residents of the building at 401 East Ontario are allowed to keep dogs as pets. Under rules of the association, dog owners are not allowed to bring their animals in and out of the building through the main lobby entrance. Association rules require that dogs travel into and out of the building through a separate entrance. The alternative route includes a stairwell. Because Ms. Kessler uses a wheelchair, she cannot use the alternative dog route.
Ms. Kessler requested that she be allowed to walk her dog in and out the main, front door of the building, which is accessible to her, as a reasonable accommodation. She also proposed another route that would enable her to bring the dog in and out through a fire door. The condominium denied each request. Instead, the condominium association insists that she use two alternative routes. These alternative routes require that she travel through the building's parking garage, share entry and exit lanes in the garage that are designed for use by cars, and travel up or down very steep slopes.
After several unsuccessful attempts to navigate the alternative dog routes proposed by the condominium association, Ms.Kessler told the condominium association that the routes are unsafe and inaccessible. Yet, the condominium association continues to demand that Ms. Kessler use these routes. Because of the association's insistence, Ms. Kessler has not walked her dog on her own since mid-June and instead relies on her boyfriend and a dog walking company, which she pays for, to walk her dog.
“Like every other dog owner in the building, I just want the chance to walk my dog,” Kessler said. “I can’t do that because the condo association is not allowing me to take an accessible and safe route in and out of the building with my pet.”
Rather than grant Ms. Kessler's request for a safe, accessible route, the association has alleged that she has violated certain association rules, for which she has been fined $850. Ms. Kessler believes that she has followed all the association's rules, and that the fine was levied in retaliation for her requests for accommodation. In addition to the condominium association's refusal to provide an accessible dog route and its alleged retaliation against Ms. Kessler, it has rejected Ms. Kessler's request for an accessible parking place.
Ms. Kessler believes that the actions by the 401 East Ontario Condominium Association constitute discrimination against a person with a disability under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. According to the Fair Housing Amendments act, it is illegal to refuse to make accommodations in rules and policies if the accommodations are reasonable and necessary to enable people with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. It is also illegal to "coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere" with a person protected by the law if he or she is attempting to exercise his or her rights under the law.
The complaint filed by Ms. Kessler alleges that the condominium association's recent fines against Ms. Kessler are attempts to intimidate and threaten.
Ms. Kessler is represented by lawyers from Access Living and Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is a leading force in the community. Committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers, Access Living is a nationally recognized change agent at the forefront of the disability rights movement.
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