Tribunal orders Vancouver landlords to build wheelchair ramp for tenant with ALS

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      Martina Walsh suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS.

      It’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that gradually paralyzed her.

      She is now immobile.

      In June 2016, Walsh requested her landlords to install a wheelchair ramp.

      She and her husband, Grant Biggings, live at a Vancouver apartment building.

      Before Walsh lost her ability to use her limbs, she had to climb eight stair steps to get to her rental home.

      The landlords didn’t think that it was possible to build a ramp because of a lot of reasons.

      And so, on behalf his wife, Biggings filed a complaint before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

      In a ruling dated July 25, 2018, the tribunal ruled that landlords Thomas A. Pink, Joan F. Pink, and John Jeffrey Pink violated Section 10 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

      According to Section 10 of the law that applies to Walsh, a tenant must not be discriminated against on the basis of physical disability.

      Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau heard the case over five days last June.

      “The heart of this complaint is whether the Respondents have satisfied their obligation to accommodate Ms. Walsh up to the point of undue hardship,” Cousineau wrote in her ruling.

      According to Cousineau, the Pinks provided three arguments to show that they have “fulfilled their obligation to accommodate Ms. Walsh’s disability”.

      One is that they offered to help Walsh find a new place, but she refused to leave.

      Cousineau noted that “in certain circumstances, moving from one’s home may be a solution to a problem posed by inaccessible or otherwise discriminatory housing”.

      “However, in my view, taking into account the purposes of human rights legislation, moving is not an accommodation,” the tribunal member wrote.

      The landlords also argued that they offered Walsh money to buy a stair climbing wheelchair, but she refused.

      According to Cousineau, neither Walsh nor Biggings felt it was safe to use the apparatus. Walsh’s occupational therapist didn’t recommend it.

      “Taken together with the safety concerns about its use, it is my view that this was not a reasonable accommodation,” Cousineau.

      The landlords also argued that it was “not possible to construct a ramp at the Building without incurring undue hardship” because of reasons that include challenges relating to compliance with city zoning and building bylaws.

      “In addition, they argue that it is unlikely that Ms. Walsh will even be in the apartment long enough to use a ramp and that the duty to accommodate does not require them to undertake measures with little or no likelihood of success…,” Cousineau wrote.

      According to Cousineau, she agrees that there “may be a point at which it would be unreasonable to pursue an accommodation option”.

      “However, the facts of this case do not support their conclusion that it is ‘not legally or physically possible’ to build a ramp at the Building,” Cousineau wrote.  

      In her ruling, Cousineau ordered the Pinks to “make all reasonable efforts to obtain City approvals and permits as may be required to build a ramp at the Building”.

      “This obligation ends at the point when the City has made a final decision to approve or deny the request to build a ramp,” the tribunal member wrote. “If City approval is obtained, the Respondents must make all reasonable efforts to build a ramp at the building in as expeditious a manner as is reasonably possible, within nine months of the date of this order.”

      Cousineau also ordered the landlords to pay Walsh $5,306 as compensation for expenses incurred in the case.

      Cousineau likewise directed the landlords to pay Walsh $35,000 as compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings, and self‐respect”.

      The Pinks are not terrible landlords.

      In her ruling, the tribunal member made it clear that this is “not a case where the landlords’ accommodation efforts were negligible, half‐hearted, or insincere”.

      It’s just that while the landlords “did take steps to investigate making the building accessible, they stopped short of taking all reasonable and practical steps to remove the disability‐related barrier”.