Rotary Club of Harris County– Meeting their community’s needs

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By Sharon Langer 

The Rotary Club of Harris County Georgia has a 17 year history of service to their community. I was privileged to join them this month at a summer breakfast meeting and hear about a unique project they started for persons with disabilities. I am hoping that by writing about this project other Rotary groups might be encouraged to start their own project. In partnership with a local faith based non-profit called FOCUS, residents who need ramps in order to enter their homes house in the country with long wheelchair rampare identified. These folks are unable to afford to put in the ramps and the Rotarians provide not only the materials but actually come to the homes and build the ramps. They are beautiful and functional. Please see the picture of one they built this year. The creed of Rotary is that leaders from all walks of life are united to amplify their individual contributions to make the world a better place to live and work. The Rotary Club of Harris County puts that creed to work. I want to particularly congratulate Tom Cheatham who was the fundraising chair this year for raising over $10,000 towards these endeavors.

https://www.facebook.com/HarrisCountyGeorgiaRotaryClub

Litigation – Fair Housing Reasonable Accommodations – Hey Mr. Landlord, please can you make one little change so I can live in my home?

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Last month, Disability Independence Group filed two cases, one on behalf of a woman who is blind, and another case on behalf of a veteran who had a massive heart attack and needed a simple accommodation.  Instead of allowing a simple and easy accommodation, the landlord decided to find some way to evict them.   Many landlords believe that the terms and conditions of the apartments they rent are not subject to modification – it’s “take it or leave it.”  But the Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make modifications to rules, policies or procedures so that tenants with disabilities can have the same opportunities to live in a home and in an integrated community.

BLIND AND WITHOUT A PATH – REID V. CRYSTAL LAKES

Debra Reid is an elderly woman who became blind as a result of a side effect of a medication for headaches.  For the past five years, she has learned how to become independent, including using a white cane, and she uses the county’s paratransit system to go to areas throughout the city.   Even though the landlord knew that Ms. Reid was blind, they would always give her lease, notices, and other materials in print to sign, and tcrystal lakes apartmenthen she would ask her neighbor to read it to her.

Upon using the sidewalk and path of travel, Ms. Reid would use her cane to determine if a car was blocking her path of travel.  Often, vehicles would block her access from her unit to the parking lot where she would have paratransit pick her up.  The neighbors that would park there would yell and would harass Ms. Reid when she exited her home and attempted to find a way to reach the paratransit vehicle.

Ms. Reid went to the property manager for Crystal Lakes and asked her to block the one spot in front of her path of travel so she could get access to the paratransit vehicle.  She even offered to pay to have the space painted so other vehicles would not park in that space.  The employee of Crystal Lakes refused the accommodation and advised Ms. Reid to call the police if neighbors were harassing her about their vehicles.  She did, and still there was no help.

Finally, Ms. Reid contacted Disability Independence Group and Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence for help.  However, upon receipt of assistance, the landlord agreed to provide her with a path of travel but claimed that she had vandalized the vehicles with her white cane when she attempted to get to her car!  In addition, the landlord decided not to renew Ms. Ried’s lease for another year because they claimed to no longer accept her rent subsidy.  Miami-Dade County does not permit landlords to discriminate based upon the renter’s source of income.  As such, while the termination was due to the Ms. Reid’s request for accommodation, the proffered reason by the landlord was also discriminatory.

HEART ATTACK AND NO WAY TO GO HOME – PEREZ v. F.C.D.

Until April 5, 2015, Fabio Perez was an active man and veteran.  He suffered a massive heart attack while in the hospital undergoing a minor procedure and almost died.  His heart was so weak that he had an external defibrillator installed.  He could hardly walk without assistance or an assistive device.

Mr. Perez lived on the second floor of the apartment complex.  When he first moved in, the landlord asked if Mr. Perez could climb stairs, and he advised Mr. Perez that the elevators were only used for moving in and moving out.   The reason why the landlord did not have the elevators operating all the time was because the elevator company wanted to enter an agreement for $500 a month to maintain and repair the elevator and the landlord just did not want to spend the money.

After his heart attack, the landlord went to the ICU to collect his rent, and Mr. Perez was required to give his landlord his ATM card and PIN# so his landlord could withdraw money for the rent. Thereafter, Mr. Perez asked his landlord to make sure the elevators were turned on when he returned.  His landlord said no.  Thereafter, on April 29th, Mr. Perez got a letter from his doctor explaining that he could not use the stairs, and he called his landlord saying that he had a letter to prove he cannot use the stairs and requested that the elevators be turned on.  Again, his landlord said he would not turn on the elevators.

Mr. Perez contacted Disability Independence Group and asked for help.  Matthew Dietz contacted the landlord who assured that the elevator was always working, but when Mr. Perez was discharged from the hospital on May 8th, the elevator was not working.  The elevator was finally turned on May 13th.

While he was hospitalized, Mr. Perez hired a housekeeper to clean his house and feed his cat.  However, two days following his return, the landlord went to see Mr. Perez and demanded that he sign a new lease which ended his tenancy within a few months and included new conditions, limitations, and charges.  When Mr. Perez refused to agree, the next day, the landlord inspected the apartment for the first time and brought Mr. Perez’s neighbors to the inspection. The landlord moved and looked underneath furniture and cited Mr. Perez for having an unkempt apartment and for the presence of roaches.

This caused so much stress for Mr. Perez that he was required to go back to the hospital via ambulance.  While he was in the hospital, the landlord commenced eviction proceedings.  DIG is defending Mr. Perez and prosecuting the Fair Housing case on his behalf.

DIG Litigation Update – $625,000 settlement to ensure accessibility in Section 8 project based housing developments.

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On April 17, 2015, Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (HOPE) and six residents of two developments in Miami Gardens and Opa-Locka, Florida settled a lawsuit with Charter Management and Miami Property Group, and obtained significant changes in the policies and procedures of their housing development to ensure that all residents are able to easily obtain necessary accommodations for their disabilities, required the construction and maintenance of children-friendly facilities and awarded $625,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

In Florida, there are approximately 21,000 units that are project-based, privately owned developments that receive Section 8 funding. The average income for the tenants of these units range from $10,000 to slightly over $16,000, and many of these residents are employed or on Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income. In these developments, the tenants pay 30 percent of income for rent. Tenant-paid rents for these types of units average under $300 per month, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays the remaining amounts. This HUD subsidized housing stock serves a large concentration of elderly households and families with children throughout the state of Florida.

There is a dearth of availability of accessible housing for persons with disabilities who reside in subsidized housing. Most of the housing stock for assisted housing is over thirty years old, and when built, there were no requirements for accessibility in housing. While HUD regulations require that property owners both ensure that all alterations to the property maximize accessibility and that they provide residents with modifications to their units, most times, these obligations are neglected.

In this lawsuit, the residents were denied accommodations, or the management placed unnecessary barriers to obtaining an accommodation. In this development all of the apartments had entry doors which required a step-up to get into the doorway. As such, a person who uses a wheelchair were essentially trapped in their homes, a person with mobility impairments could be assigned to live on the second floor, or required to park in a far parking space.

Most of all, many of the residents of these developments were not aware that the owner of these projects had a duty to provide the accommodations at the facilities expense, and not the tenant’s expense. As such, many tenants did not know what was available to them, or how to ask for an appropriate accommodation.

The settlement ensured that all of the residents are aware of the modifications that they could receive, from assistance animals, to ramps and grab bars; required extensive training and guidance, and provided additional facilities for children.

So this month’s article will conclude with a listing of many, but not an exhaustive account, of accommodations that can be requested, and what proof is needed to get an accommodation:

How to request an accommodation:

An accommodation can be verbal or in writing, and if the disability is obvious and the need for the accommodation is clear, than no additional proof is required. If the disability is not obvious or the need for the accommodation is not clear, than the housing provider can ask the requestor to provide verification from their medical provider of their disability and need for the accommodation. The housing provider cannot ask for medical records, and as proof of disability, must accept proof of receipt of social security determination of disability.

Accommodations that may be requested:

    • Ramps in common areas or into doors
    • Grab bars in toilet areas or baths
    • Widening doorways
    • Stoves or appliances with controls within the reach range
    • Lowered peepholes
    • Cabinets within reach range
    • Lowered thermostats
    • Constructing a usable doorway
    • Roll-in shower
    • Pedestal sink
    • Hand-held shower nozzle
    • Designated, exclusive parking space
    • Lowered Mailbox
    • Assistance and payment for relocation expenses during any renovations to the tenant’s home

Changes in policies that can be requested:

    • Assistance animal (service animal or emotional support animal)
    • Live-in Aide
    • Transfer to a downstairs unit
    • Transfer to a larger unit to accommodate a live in aide

If you have any questions about accommodations or your rights under the Fair Housing Act, contact DIG at http://www.justdigit.org, or (305) 669-2822.

Fair Housing for Persons with Disabilities….What can a housing provider ask you?

Fair Housing is your right, use it
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By: Sharon Langer

At Disability Independence Group, we receive many inquiries from tenants or persons who live in condominiums or neighborhood associations about overly intrusive questions about disabilities, and why the person would need an accommodation because of his or her disability.

The underlying rule is that a person with a disability or a person associated with a person with a disability (such as a child with a disability) has the right to apply for and live in any housing unit regardless of their disability, and are entitled to an accommodation because of their disability. The only exceptions is where the disability poses a direct threat to the community or the accommodation would be a fundamental alteration to the development. When a housing provider rejects a tenant with a disability based on something related to their disability, it has violated the law.

A person with a disability is defined as a person who lives with a mental or physical disability that substantially limits their ability to perform one or more life activities; a person that has a record of the disability; or a person that is considered by others to have a disability. A housing provider may not ask you questions about the nature or extent of a disability when you apply to rent or buy an apartment or house.

Further, a housing provider cannot ask questions about a disability or need for an accommodation if the disability or need for an accommodation is obvious. An example of an obviously reasonable request would be the need of a person who uses a wheelchair or a walker to have a designated accessible parking space by the entrance to the apartment.In some cases a landlord may be able to ask for proof of the disability or proof of the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation. If the disability is not obvious or the need for an accommodation or modification is not obvious, the landlord may only ask for necessary disability-related information.

A person with a disability may offer verification of their impairment by:

  • Offering a finding from the Social Security Administration of Disability
  • Offering a doctor, medical provider, peer support group, non-medical service agency or reliable third party’s information about their disability.

Further, for need for a certain accommodation, where the need is not obvious, you should offer a statement from a medical professional.

If you need a structural change at you home (such as grab bars in a bathroom), or even the common areas of a condominium (such as ramping steps, or a pool lift), in most circumstances, you will be responsible for the costs of providing the structural element. However, in some jurisdictions, and in all federally funded apartment complexes, the housing provider would be responsible for the costs in installing the accessible structural element.

If you have any questions, or need more information, please go to our website at http://www.justdigit.org, or call us at (305) 669-2822.

Owning an Accessible Home

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by Zachary Trautenberg  – zkylet@me.com

picture of Zachary Trautenberg in a motorized wheelchair in a home under constrution

Zachary Trautenberg

What is a home? A home is a place to call your own. It is a place where you feel safe and are most comfortable. Owning your home can give you a sense of security and the ability to create a sanctuary. It allows you to have control and freedom. If done right a person with a disability should feel the least disabled in their own home. It will take a lot of time and planning, but steps can be taken reduce limitations.

There are lots of great resources that can support a person with a disability who owns their own home. When it comes to taxes you can write off many of the modifications that are made for accessibility. In many counties you can also be exempt from paying property taxes. Organizations like Vocational Rehabilitation can assist with the cost of certain modifications. Blue Badge Homes, http://www.bluebadgehomes.com, is new website that acts as a marketplace for accessible real estate. Chances are you will never find exactly what you want. Just look for something with good bones and potential. The fun is getting to make it exactly the way you want it. Do not be afraid to get messy, get creative, and think way outside the box.

If you like this article and want to read more by Zachary Trautenberg, check out his blog Independent and Accessible Living at http://www.independentaccessibleliving.com.