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Apartment Advisor

Taking On Tenants Who Park in Space for the Disabled

November 18, 2001|BARBARA BURTOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A tenant who uses a wheelchair was assigned a prime parking spot in the garage near the entrance to the building.

But some residents use the space while they unload groceries and take them to their units. Others use the space while they drop off or pick up their children who are visiting grandparents.

Because the illegal parker is there only a short time, calling a tow truck doesn't seem to be the answer.

Several readers, including a lawyer who works as an advocate of people with disabilities, had suggestions:

* The apartment management could assign a few close-in spots for 10-minute loading and unloading only.

While it would never eliminate the problem, it would make it less likely that someone will take this man's parking spot.

* It is not only those who have been assigned handicapped spaces who have this problem. I live in a condominium where I have the assigned parking space closest to the door. I often find that people take my space out of ignorance or laziness.

I park directly behind the person in my space, go up to my apartment and go about my business. When the person returns and wants out, someone finds me. I get a call and I tell the individual I'll move my car in about 15 minutes. The key is to always be polite.

The individual learns fast enough that the parking space is not his.

* I have the answer: Enforcement. No excuses acceptable.

Management authorizes a commercial towing company to roam the parking lot for the immediate tow of illegal parkers.

* Being able to live independently is an important goal for people with disabilities. Federal, state and local civil rights laws support this goal by requiring governments, employers, store owners and landlords to provide accessible parking for people with mobility impairments.

The Fair Housing Act also requires apartment owners and managers to provide an assigned spot as a "reasonable accommodation" for someone who could not otherwise use and enjoy an apartment and the common areas.

People who have mobility impairments, whether or not they use a wheelchair, depend on access to parking spaces close to building entrances to have equal use and enjoyment of an apartment complex. But management's responsibility does not end by merely assigning a close space; rather, it must also help to educate other tenants not to "borrow" an accessible space, even for a few minutes.

While the law places the responsibility on the landlord to provide such parking, it also says that management's failure to respond to the use of the space by other tenants (even if it's only for a short time) may make the landlord liable for violation of the Fair Housing Act. Here is what management can do to protect itself and to ensure that the space is reserved for the tenant with a mobility impairment:

* If the apartment complex has a newsletter or bulletin board or regular notices that go out to tenants, feature a short article on the importance of a reserved space for the tenant with a disability.

Most people will react positively if they understand that their momentary convenience in using the reserved spot is outweighed by the physical and emotional toll on the tenant who has been assigned the space.

* Nip the violations in the bud, because the practice will snowball as tenants see more people "borrowing" the space. Put warning notices on offenders' windshields.

Some activists have made pre-printed forms on pink paper about the size of a traffic citation. The warning notice contains a polite reminder of what the law requires (a "handicap" parking sticker, permit or placard), and the effect of taking a space away from someone who might need it more.

* Encourage the tenant whose space is being borrowed to keep track of the color, make, model and license plates of offending cars, and the date and time of the offense, and turn the information over to management.

At that point, it is incumbent on management to deal directly with the offending drivers, whether they be other tenants in the building or guests of other tenants.

This may include friendly reminders, escalating fines or other sanctions, such as loss of privileges to the pool or exercise room.

*

Barbara Burtoff welcomes comments and questions but cannot reply to each letter. She can be reached at bbapartmentlife@aol.com. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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