The latest in our new series of blog posts on cases involving the Fair Housing Act is from Illinois, where Morris and Thelma Weiner filed a lawsuit regarding a handicapped parking space against the Prairie Park Condominium Association, the Association’s management company, and the Basharimovs, owners of a residential unit and a handicapped parking space at the Condominium. The Weiners alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Illinois Condominium Property Act, and breach of contract due to the defendants’ failure to exchange the Weiners’ standard parking space for a handicapped parking space owned by a non-handicapped owner once Mr. Weiner’s mobility declined to the point where he could no longer walk from his standard parking space to his condominium unit without significant pain and suffering.
The Association’s governing documents provided that handicapped parking units could be owned by unit owners who were not handicapped; however, within 30 days of a request from a handicapped condominium unit owner, the owner assigned the handicapped parking space shall exchange parking units with the handicapped owner, with both owners recording new deeds for the exchanged parking units. When Mr. Weiner directed his request for a handicapped parking space to the Association, the Association and its management company directed Mr. Weiner to confer with the owners of the condominium’s four handicapped parking units. However, the Weiners were not able to secure a transfer from any of the owners of the handicapped parking units. The Association and management company took the position that the governing documents required them to facilitate negotiations between the Weiners and the owners of the handicapped parking spots, but did not grant them the authority to transfer property or compel another to do so.
The Court pointed out that as pertaining to Mr. Weiner, the Fair Housing Act defines discrimination as “a refusal to permit, at the expense of a handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises,” as well as “a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” The Court declined to dismiss all of the Weiners’ Fair Housing Act claims, finding that if the Weiners’ factual allegations were true, the Association and its management company have refused to make the necessary reasonable accommodations that would allow Mr. Weiner to enjoy equal access to the condominium.
Further, the Court declined to dismiss the Weiners’ breach of contract claims against all of the defendants. The Association and its management company argued that they did not have the authority to mandate an exchange of parking space units between the owners. The Basharimovs argued that they could not be forced to exchange their parking space because they owned the handicapped parking space in the same way they owned their condominium unit. The Court responded that all of the condominium units were purchased subject to the condominium’s governing documents, which require a parking space transfer under specific circumstances. The Court explained that pursuant to the governing documents, the Board had the authority to take action against owners to enforce the declaration’s terms. The Court further elaborated that the governing documents also permit owners to sue other owners to enforce the terms of the declaration.
It may be surprising to some that a court would require individuals to exchange privately owned property. However, it is important for community associations to recognize that courts have routinely required associations to comply with their duty to provide reasonable accommodations to owners who are entitled to protection under the Fair Housing Act. In some circumstances, associations may be able to amend their governing documents to clarify or simplify sections that are causing unintended difficulties. However, regardless of whether it is possible for an association to make sensible amendments to its governing documents, the association will still be subject to compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
To see our previous post on a case involving the Fair Housing Act, please click here.
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