Q: I am 98 years old and depend on a walker. For a year, I have kept it in the hallway outside my studio apartment, which I rent from a shareholder in an East Village co-op. The walker doesn’t obstruct other apartments, or restrict access to the elevator or stairwell. Nevertheless, I’ve been informed that I must keep it inside my apartment. But this makes it difficult for me to get out because the space is narrow and complicated by a self-closing door. The situation could be dangerous in an emergency. Can the board make an exception for a disabled person?
A: As a tenant with a disability, you need to be able to safely enter and exit your apartment. If you need a reasonable accommodation for that to happen, your housing provider, which in this case is ultimately the co-op board, needs to provide you with one. However, the board has another equally important obligation to the safety of residents: It must follow city fire and building codes to keep hallways free of obstructions and access to exit routes clear.
“At the end of the day, this is a real thing, the question of egress routes being clear,” said John W. Egan, a lawyer and partner in the New York City office of the firm Seyfarth Shaw, where he leads the office’s disability-access practice. “There could be a real problem and it could be a liability issue if they’re allowing obstructions” in the hallways.
So, you need to have a real conversation with management. The New York City Human Rights Law requires parties to have a cooperative dialogue about issues such as this one. Write a letter to the owner of your apartment, the managing agent and the board requesting that they work with you to find a solution that allows you to safely enter and exit your apartment, but also keeps the building safe in the event of an emergency.
“There is usually a solution,” Mr. Egan said. “Maybe it’s buying a different walker. Maybe it’s putting it somewhere in the unit that is not directly along the egress route.”
Perhaps there is a spot outside your apartment door where a walker could safely fit. Or maybe yours could be hung in such a way that you can readily access it. Should you need a different walker, you could ask the building or your landlord to pay for it, as under city law the housing provider must cover the cost. Regardless, the building needs to work with you to solve this problem.