Wheelchair access

Sometimes in this job you need the wisdom of Solomon – but mostly you only need to know when to the pass the buck. This week’s curly question is one I hand-passed straight to our friends at the Office of Fair Trading.

It concerns a guy in a wheelchair who has bought into a block on the North Shore and has discovered that the doors are almost impossible to open and there is inadequate access to the swimming pool – both to the pool area and into the water itself.

Now the new owner’s solicitor has written to the Owners Corporation asking what they plan to do to make access suitable for their client. The OC is a little taken aback – didn’t the new owner realise there would be access problems when they bought in? And are the other owners now compelled to remedy this?
First things first, no decent person wants to discriminate against people with disabilities, including, I assume, our correspondent. You could say that the new owners should have bought into a more suitable building. But you could just as easily argue that he has the right to live where he wants.
A spokesman at the Office of Fair Trading sympathises with both sides of this dispute but points out that there is no obligation under strata law to alter common property. However, that’s not the end of the matter.
While the Disability Discrimination Act doesn’t apply to private owner-occupied homes, according to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities website “Disability Rights”, the law may apply to strata plans because an Owners Corporation is an association.
It goes on to say that, “access to the person’s unit would appear to be the major benefit of membership of the body concerned. Unless there are strong safety or other technical concerns, it is hard to see how unjustifiable hardship could be imposed on other residents by installation of (for instance) a stair lift at a person’s own expense.”
So it’s not up to the OC to provide disabled access but they could and perhaps should work with the owner to allow the changes to be made at the individual owner’s, or some other body’s, expense.

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