In a ruling that could have a profound impact upon large and small property owners Citywide, State Supreme Court Justice Mary Anne Briganti-Hughes upheld a ruling by the City's Commission on Human Rights and held that providing access for a disabled tenant other htan throgh the front door of an apartment building does not contitute "reasonable accommodation" as required by the City's Human Rights Law.
In Riverbay Corp. v. New York City Commission of Human Rights, the property ower, Co-op city proposed the installation of a remote control mechanism whereby the tenant could access the lobby's side doors of the tenant's building. According to the decision, that proposal was made after determining that this approach was more economical than reconstructing the building's entrance doors. Modificaitons to the front entrance were estimated to cost almost $20,000. THe tenant rejected the offer, filed a complaint with the city and the owners installed the side-door controls. Although the administrative law judge riled for the owner, the Commission reversed that determination and concluded that there was discrimination in this case and imposed $50,000 in adinistrative penalties based upon the cooperative's "outrageous conduct" and an addition $50,000 award for "mental angish" caused to the tenant by the two-year delay in ofering the tenatn an alternative entrance.
The owner then challenged the Commission's ruling in State Supreme Court. Justice Briganti-Hughes upheld the Commission's finding that, in this case "strict compliance with wheelchair acess was not unduly burdensome and proposed alternatives were not equally safe or effectice." The Court ruled that the $20,000 estimated cost did not create an undue hardship and that the installation of the new entrance doors was not "architectually infeasible." The Court, however, did reduce the damages award from $50,000 to $15,000 and the administrative penalties from $50,000 to $5,000.
The concept of "reasonable accommodations" is one which, bt definition, will vary from case to case. However, this case is a sign that courts will look skeptically upon owners who do not respond timely to requests by disabled tenants for "reasonable accommodations" and who cannot readily substantiate that the costs for such accommodations constitute an undue hardship. The bar inthese types of cases continues to be raised and the burden of establishing hardship is becomming more difficult for owners.