So....What's Wrong With This Picture?
SO…WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Last night, 9 News reporter Will Ripley’s story Mislabeled sign leads to illegal towing at Aurora apartment told the story of how an apartment complex – in an apparent attempt to accommodate a tenant with a disability – made life more difficult for two of its tenants who have disabilities. That sign above resulted in (1) one tenant being denied access to what she was told was her personal “reserved” parking space; (2) another tenant having his valid disability parking placard taken away; and (3) having the second tenant’s friend getting his car towed away when it was lawfully parked in a designated accessible parking space and paying a hefty $300.00 penalty to retrieve it. We don’t know the whole story, like who called whom to have the car towed. But, the facts that led to the screw up are too common in apartment and condominium complexes to be left unblogged. So…
Here’s the scene (these are NOT the names of the folks in the story) and our unfortunate cast of characters:
Accommodation Acres is a five-year-old apartment complex with 200 units, all with outdoor entries into each unit. Accommodation Acres has strict parking policies to ensure the most fulfilling life experience for all of its beloved tenants. Each tenant gets one assigned space with the leased apartment. Those spaces are not directly in front of the leased unit, but the space is within a relatively short walking distance of the unit. Accommodation Acres is compliant with the Fair Housing Act Design Guidelines because they provide two percent of their parking spaces for residents as accessible parking spaces.
It also provides limited number of visitor spaces dispersed throughout the complex, some of which are also designated accessible spaces.
Tenant A, let’s call her Heddy Heart-Condition (her married name, a bit unfortunate in choosing to hyphenate), lives at Accommodation Acres. Heddy has a disability … let’s say it’s a … heart condition. Heddy’s heart condition, it so happens, substantially limits Heddy’s ability to breathe and to walk only very short distances without becoming extremely fatigued and out of breath. Nevertheless, Heddy can walk some and does. Heddy does not use any mobility devices at all when walking. Heddy also drives. Heddy has great difficulty walking to her car where the assigned space is located. Heddy asks Accommodation Acres for a reasonable accommodation in the parking rules.
Heddy requests [in writing with a letter from her treating physician explaining Heddy’s need for the closer parking space because of her disability, requesting a response in writing within ten days of the date of the letter] that Accommodation Acres let her use the parking space that is closest to her unit ... let’s say she lives in Building 6, Unit 310 … [look above!] and reserve it exclusively for her use.
The apartment manager … let’s call him Happy Tenantmaker … always diligent in complying with the Fair Housing Act, says, “Why certainly, Heddy. Accommodation Acres ALWAYS complies with all federal, state and local laws protecting the rights of individuals with substantial limitations in one or more major life activities. Here, since you are an individual with a disability, we will give you this designated accessible parking space near your unit. We will even affix shiny decals with your building and apartment number on the reserved parking sign. There you go. It says ‘6-310’ [look up now!] right there on that accessible, reserved parking sign. Now, everyone will know that is YOUR parking space exclusively and unequivocally RESERVED for YOUR use only. Nobody else, Heddy. Just you.” [Are you looking at the picture above yet?] Happy continues, “Now, are there any other policies, practices and procedures here at Accommodation Acres with which you would like us to make a reasonable accommodation.”
“No,” says Heddy, happy to live in such a compliant and accommodating apartment complex.
Tenant B…let’s call him…Wendell Wheelsachair … lives next door to Heddy Heartcondition. Wendell has a disability that requires him to use a manual wheelchair for mobility. Wendell does not now presently own a vehicle, but he does possess a valid, state-issued placard that he can use when his friends and family members come by and drive him places. Since living at Accommodation Acres, when Wendell rides with his friends and family, they use the designated accessible parking space that Happy just “reserved” for Heddy. The designated accessible space has an adjacent five-foot wide access aisle that Wendell need in order to transfer himself in and out of vehicles.
One day, Wendell’s friend, Herman Helpsalot (who, for reasons unrelated to this tale, was once knighted by Queen Elizabeth and who has since been known as “Sir Herman Helpsalot”), comes by and takes Wendell to the grocery store. Herman pulls into the designated accessible parking space that now says “6-310” on the sign. [Look at the picture, please.] Herman did not notice the stickers even though they were very new and luminescent at the time. Using the extra room provided by the access aisle, Wendell transfers himself into Herman’s car, pulls his wheelchair in and hangs his valid state-issued placard entitling him to use accessible parking on the rear view mirror.
Upon returning to Accommodation Acres, Herman parks in our now familiar designated accessible parking space, Wendell transfers himself back into his wheelchair, benefitting once again by using the extra room provided by the access aisle adjacent to the designated accessible parking space. Wendell asks, “What can I carry in, Sir Herman?” “Not a thing,” says Herman, “You go on in. I’ll bring the groceries in.” Wendell wheels his chair across the access aisle to the sidewalk accessible curb ramp and follows the accessible route back to his apartment. Herman rustles up the groceries, takes them to Wendell’s apartment and leaves Wendell’s state-issued hang tag on the rear view mirror while his car is parked in the space. When Herman visits Wendell, he leaves the placard in his vehicle until he leaves the complex. Just before he leaves, he removes the placard and returns it to Wendell. Wendell and Herman busy themselves putting away the groceries, and Herman stays a bit longer while the two of them discuss baseball, who won “The Voice” and why it is inappropriate to use the word “lame” when commenting on the CCDC Legal Program’s blogs posted on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Heddy, who had been away at her weekly facial, massage and poker game, drives back to Accommodation Acres only to find a vehicle parked in her “reserved” space. She was flabbergasted, astounded and bewildered. She thought out loud, “How could anyone not see MY clearly identified, RESERVED parking space?" She sees the numbers “6-310” sparkling brightly on the other side of Herman’s car. Heddy, who happens to be the Resident Association President at Accommodations Acres, who also happens to have the towing company the complex uses in position one on her iPhone’s Favorites list, grabbed her phone and shouts, “Siri, get me Terrible Towing NOW!” The phone connected. Within seconds, Terrible Towing sends Sammy Snatchitquick and his tow truck. With lightning speed, Sammy chains up Herman’s car and tows it off to Never 2 B Found Impound Lot about 200 miles away.
After liking all of CCDC’s Facebook posts for the day and concluding his chat with Wendell, Herman heads out to his car to retrieve Wendell’s placard. But wait! There is no placard! Worse yet! There is no car!
Frantic, Herman runs back to Wendell’s apartment to share his horrible news. Herman and Wendell go about the painstaking business of calling the authorities, finding out the car had been towed, finding the location of the car, getting the details of why it was towed, and discovering that it will cost approximately $307.24 to get the car and Wendell’s placard back.
That is our story. So who is our villain here?
Is it Wendell? No. (Hint: The guy in the wheelchair will never be the likely villain in one of my blogs.) But more importantly, he is permitted to use his placard in another person’s vehicle as long as that other person is transporting him.
Is it Herman? Can’t be. The guy’s a sweetheart! After all, he helps out people who use wheelchairs. Plus, he too is allowed to park in a designated accessible space as long as he is transporting the placard holder. He was not required to move the car during his visit with Wendell.
Is it Heddy? Kind of, but no. She believed (albeit incorrectly) that Accommodation Acres gave her what she requested – a close, reserved parking space.
Is it Sammy? We wish, but no. Come on. Poor guy. Gets a bad rap. Well, after all, he was just doing his job.
Who is left then? Of course! It was Accommodation Acres acting through Happy as the agent.
Doesn’t everybody read and memorize the Colorado Revised Statutes? Check this out:
§ 42-4-1208. Parking privileges for persons with disabilities--applicability--rules
. . .
(3)(a) A person with a disability may park in a parking space identified as being reserved for use by persons with disabilities whether on public property or private property available for public use. An identifying license plate or placard obtained pursuant to section 42-3-204 or as otherwise authorized by subsection (4) of this section shall be displayed in accordance with 23 CFR 1235 at all times on the vehicle while parked in such space.
(b) The owner of private property available for public use may request the installation of official signs identifying reserved parking spaces. Such a request shall be a waiver of any objection the owner may assert concerning enforcement of this section by peace officers of any political subdivision of this state, and the officers are hereby authorized and empowered to enforce this section, provisions of law to the contrary notwithstanding. No person shall impose restrictions on the use of disabled parking unless specifically authorized by a statute, resolution, or ordinance of the state of Colorado or a political subdivision thereof and notice of the restriction is prominently posted by a sign clearly visible at the parking space.
(c) Each parking space reserved for use by persons with disabilities whether on public property or private property shall be marked with an official upright sign, which sign may be stationary or portable, identifying such parking space as reserved for use by persons with disabilities.
In this case, Accommodation Acres, although arguably trying to do the right thing, screwed up. It was correct under the Fair Housing Act to grant Heddy’s request for a reasonable accommodation; however, using the designated accessible space to grant Heddy’s accommodation request was wrong for several reasons:
Mistake Number One: Heddy did not need a designated accessible space at all. She does not use a wheelchair. She does not need the extra room the access aisle provides, and she doesn’t need a sign identifying her reserved space as an accessible space at all.
Mistake Number Two: Under Colorado law, any person with a valid plate or placard can park in any space identified as being reserved for use by persons with disabilities whether on public property or private property available for public use. Look at the picture.
Mistake Number Three: Eliminating the availability of an accessible parking space that was required as part of the two percent of parking spaces required to be accessible by the Fair Housing Act violates the law. (But note: If Heddy actually did need a wider space, Accommodation Acres should provide that AND add another designated accessible space to ensure it complies with the two percent plus visitor spaces rules.)
Solution: What Heddy needed, and what Accommodation Acres should have provided, was a close, regular parking space, not a designated accessible one. A sign saying “Reserved for Unit 6-310: Violators will be towed” is what is needed.
Accommodation Acres is far from alone in making this mistake. CCDC’s Legal Program has been called upon to help disabled renters and condominium owners many times get a truly RESERVED parking space. Employers beware as well. If your business provides parking and an employee requests a reserved parking space due to a disability, you too need to ensure you provide a space that is exclusively reserved for that employee, meets the needs of that employee, and does not confuse other drivers by displaying the International Symbol of Accessibility. See 2010 Standards for Accessible Design 703.7.2.
703.7.2.1 International Symbol of Accessibility. The International Symbol of Accessibility shall comply with Figure 703.7.2.1.
International Symbol of Accessibility
Will Ripley’s 9 News story, “Mislabeled sign leads to illegal towing at Aurora apartment complex suggested an alternative that will do what is needed and eliminate the confusion:
is the name of the real guy whose car was towed away. During the interview, Gent said, “"The big lesson I want is I want signs to be clearly marked.”
CCDC agrees with you, Mr. Gent. We hope your story and this blog serve to educate homeowners’ associations, landlords, apartment complex managers, employers and anyone else who provides parking. Thery needf to get the message.
A request for reasonable accommodation based on disability in the form of a “reserved parking space” means installing signage that:
(1) clearly identifies the space as reserved for one person and no one else;
(2) does not use the International Symbol of Accessibility; and
(3) does not reduce the number of designated accessible parking spaces you are required to provide.
Thanks Will Ripley for shining a spotlight on a problem that affects too many and one that is easily resolved.
42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). Under the Fair Housing Act, unlawful discrimination includes “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[.]”
For best results, sign up for CCDC’s advocacy class and catch Andrew Montoya’s training on Requesting Reasonable Accommodations.