A rental property owner, her husband, and their corporation were ordered to build an access ramp at the entrance of their rental property, and to pay a tenant $15,500 for discrimination.
The tenant, now 68, suffers from multiple disabilities which impede her mobility. She moved into the ground floor, two-bedroom suite nearly 13 years ago. Since then, her condition has worsened, and she must now use a walker. The front entrance is by way of five stairs.
The woman’s physiotherapist provided proof to the Tribunal that negotiating stairs at this point is too difficult and places the tenant at risk of a fall or other injury. He recommended that she have her landlord install a ramp.
The tenant then contacted CMHC for information about financial assistance available to the landlord in order to build the upgrade. She completed an application, and presented this to the husband, the managing landlord, to complete his portion of the financial assistance form. However, he stated that he found the form too intrusive, and that he had no interest in building a ramp.
The managing landlord maintained that, after speaking to a lawyer, he was convinced he had no legal obligation to comply with the request to build a ramp. He also testified that he spoke with a city inspector who reiterated that there is no duty for a landlord to build an access ramp, given the age of the property and the circumstances. The inspector also warned the landlord that, should the ramp be built, it would be subject to ramp grade requirements.
The parties disagree on the estimated cost of building the ramp, but the figure fell somewhere between $10,000 and $36,000.
During the course of the dispute, the manager offered to move the tenant to a vacant basement suite, which was accessible at ground level, but the tenant would have to travel over a gravel path with her walker. Also, that unit was isolated from the others and the tenant was afraid to live there.
The testimony provided evidence that the landlords had shown kindness toward the tenants, and had provided significant property upgrades and renovations in recent years. The owners indicated they simply could not afford the ramp, and that they believed as property owners they had the right to reject the request as a business decision.
The tenant was successful in persuading the Tribunal that her lack of access was interfering with her everyday life. For instance, she said she now severely limits the number of times she leaves the apartment, and if she had better access, she would go out more.
The tenant sued for discrimination based both on physical disability, and on age. With regard to the latter, the Tribunal found that the manager himself had made comments linking the tenant’s disabilities to her age, and for that reason, he was found to have discriminated both on disability and age.
For their defence, the landlords argued the cost of the ramp would present an undue hardship, an issue the Member was willing to take into account. Unfortunately, although the landlords’ financial records were submitted for review, the Tribunal Member found that, without further explanation, these records were not clear, and did not offer sufficient proof that the owners could not afford the expense.
With regard to the claim that the landlords had the right to deny the request simply as a business decision, the Member writes,”Landlords cannot make business decisions that break the (Human Rights) Code.”
Finally, the landlords claimed that they did not intend to discriminate. The court found that lack of intent is not a defence to discrimination.
The landlords were ordered to build the ramp, and to pay the tenant $15,000 in damages for her injury to dignity. In addition, the managing landlord was ordered to pay $500 as a penalty for withholding documents from the tenant leading up to the hearing.
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