The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged a Ponce Inlet condo association with discriminating against a disabled retired sanitation supervisor who spent 400 days removing debris after 9/11.
The couple received
their first rules violation notice on Oct. 27, 2017,
according to the charging document.
One of the community's rules reads: "Personal items may not be left at your front door, such as shoes, chairs, towels, fishing poles, boogie boards, skateboards, etc. A doormat and wreath are the only items allowed at your front door."
A second violation notice was posted on Jan. 24, 2018. A week later, the condo association took the couple's shoes, placing them in the association's office.
The couple filed a complaint with Ponce Inlet police, who helped them retrieve their shoes.
The same scenario — shoes taken, a call to police — played out the next month.
According to the Ponce Inlet police report, on Feb. 22, 2018, police advised the retiree to move the shoes from outside his door "to avoid any future incidents."
Police also advised a condo board member to have the board's attorney send a letter to the retiree, the Ponce Inlet report states.
A letter from a lawyer was sent to the retiree the next month, advising him to "cease and desist placing personal belongings outside of their unit and that their continued violation will result in filing an injunction."
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In April, the retiree and his wife requested a reasonable accommodation to allow them to leave their shoes outside of their unit because of allergies. A back and forth of correspondence followed, with the retiree and his wife providing documents. A doctor wrote a recommendation to not track allergens indoors and a physician's assistant wrote a request "to allow the retiree to leave his shoes or work boots outside due to allergies."
The retiree and his wife also provided documents referencing a shoeborne pathogen study and a letter from the World Trade Center Health Program outlining his conditions.
The condo association, in May, responded that the documentation "did not establish a causal relationship between the complainants' shoes to 'an undefined allergy or disability.'" The association sought to inspect and photograph the retiree's unit "and examine all shoes and vegetation within the unit and balcony."
The association also requested medical records, including prescriptions, any test results of the unit for allergens or molds and more.
The retiree responded with records, including a letter from his allergist's office stating: "Although issues may or may not occur when shoes are inside, some potential allergens and pesticides could cause extreme or even life-threatening respiratory distress or gastrointestinal inflammation that are hard to recover from. All caution should be taken to avoid these high-risk outcomes. It would be beneficial to make an arrangement for shoes to be stored outside of the home."
inflammation, difficulty breathing or swallowing'
The condo association replied on May 30, stating the allergist's letter did not establish a nexus between the retiree's allergies or other disabilities and his shoes, as well as "the medical professional's opinion must satisfy the definition of disability."
The association lawyer questioned whether placing the shoes in a sealed container inside the home would be a solution.
Bad idea, according to the retiree's physician. In a letter the next year, the doctor wrote that "allowing contaminated objects to remain in a small enclosed space does not allow allergens, bacteria, and pollutants to dissipate, creating a greater chance of contamination, reaction and inflammation."
That letter further noted "bringing his recently worn shoes indoors puts (the retiree) at unnecessary risk of inflammation, difficulty breathing or swallowing, a possible complete inability to breathe or swallow." Leaving the shoes outside was one of many strategies for the retiree to minimize exposure, the letter stated.
The condo association responded: "The doctor's letter does not connect the dots by stating specifically the nexus of such allergies to the specific substance presumably on his shoes."
That letter also asked whether lab tests had been performed on the retiree's shoes, how he should deal with shoes inside his vehicle and whether they had any peer-reviewed medical articles substantiating the correlation between the allergies and shoes.
Fair Housing Act's
HUD officials are making a case that the condo association's actions violate the Fair Housing Act, specifically making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.
A message left with Harbour Village management was not immediately returned.
Jeanine Worden, HUD's acting assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, explained the decision to pursue the case.
“It is critically important that individuals with disabilities be granted the reasonable accommodations they need to use and enjoy the place they call home,” Worden stated in a prepared statement. “When a person with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, a small exception or modification to a housing provider’s rules can make a big difference in the health and well-being of an individual with a disability.”
“Refusing to grant reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities is simply illegal, and so is making repeated requests for unnecessary documentation,” said Damon Smith, HUD’s general counsel. “HUD is dedicated to eliminating barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from having an equal opportunity to enjoy their homes.”
The case next goes before an U.S. administrative law judge. If the judge finds discrimination has occurred, the judge may order the condo association to allow the retiree to leave his shoes outside his door, award damages to the complainants and payment of attorney fees, and impose civil penalties.