Suspension of Privileges: Can It Go Too Far?

In a recent case in New Jersey, a condominium association settled its case with a unit owner after the civil rights commission made a probable cause finding for failing to make a reasonable accommodation for her disability.

The unit owner fell delinquent on her monthly maintenance fees, and in response, as many associations do, they suspended her rights to use the common areas and facilities.  While this is an acceptable response, the association took it a bit too far.  Not only did they suspend her voting privileges and access to the pool and tennis courts, but they also banned her from using the association’s parking lot.  Unfortunately, the owner suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which significantly decreases lung function.

Not able to park her vehicle in the association’s parking lot, the owner was forced to walk about a mile to her unit.  She accordingly requested an accommodation to park in the handicapped space in front her of unit as she had a state-issued handicapped decal.  The long walk severely exacerbated her lung condition.

The Board refused her request, and the civil rights commission made a probable cause finding, which opens up the association to liability for discrimination.  The civil rights commission found that it caused the association no undue hardship to allow the delinquent owner to continue using the handicapped parking space in the common area.  The association ended up paying the owner $10,000 and forgiving thousands in maintenance fees to settle the lawsuit.

When dealing with suspension of privileges, be sure the Board is still complying with reasonable request accommodations and not violating any bankruptcy stay (privileges for a bankrupt member should be reinstated until the bankruptcy is dismissed or discharged).  Failing to comply with these guidelines can result in fines and lawsuits for the association.

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