Do you own or rent an apartment or townhouse under strata title, and need alterations to a common area to make it usable for you because of your disability? You’re not alone!
Read on for the experience of one SCI BC member who successfully lobbied their strata council for accessibility improvements. We have removed identifying information to protect the member and have paraphrased some of the comments. The general suggestions are relevant to anyone living in a strata community; see the end of the article for more information on how to get help with this type of issue.
Here is the story and recommendations of one SCI BC peer member who succeeded in getting their accessibility improvements through their strata:
I’m an SCI BC member and I would like to share my experience in lobbying for the installation of automatic door openers. The process started about a year ago. Our first attempt in trying to secure a commitment from the strata was shut down, however, our second attempt was successful, and our strata agreed to have automatic door buttons installed from the parkade to the building and a ramp to the roof-top patio. Here’s how we accomplished this:
We had a few advantages. We had one council member who was a wheelchair user. He owned a condo in the building but did not live there, however, he quickly proved himself to be an ally. Also, the former owner of my condo (whose daughter is a wheelchair user) agreed to help as well.
I talked to absolutely everyone I could as I went about the building. I mentioned how great it would be to have automatic door openers installed from the parkade to the building. These were just casual conversations I struck up in elevators, or as I was getting my mail.
One thing that really helped was to talk to people who had to open doors for me. I brought up ways it would be helpful to them too [with their] groceries, walking their dog, dealing with strollers etc…
The best course of action would have been to join the strata council—however, we didn’t end up needing to do that.
Our advice on how to proceed:
1. Inform strata in writing of your disability [in general terms, no medical disclosures].
2. Therein, state clearly what needs to be changed in common property areas to have equal access to your property and your car and mailbox. A case can be made to have non-structural modifications made to simplify access to the common room gym and deck.
3. Get this letter in before the next meeting of the council.
4. State the priorities of requested changes. Ask that the modification be done, and ask that no modification be carried out without you being consulted to ensure it meets your needs.
The good news:
The provincial courts have already ruled that an owner must have access to their property and that this access must be equal and dignified. (There have been cases where strata argued that where access through the garage was possible, this was enough. That argument was rejected and the court ruled against strata.)
I suspect that it won’t be the BC Building Code that will do the trick in this instance, as it is purposely vague to let developers off the hook. The best bet is the Human Rights Code, and the failure to provide equal access for all residents.
A very good summary of human rights code and law:
BC Human Rights Clinic: https://bchrc.net/
Another good source of information BC Human Rights Protection: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/human-rights/human-rights-protection
Here is part of a sample letter to a strata council to request accommodations to access the building:
Please note: this is not the first communication about the access problems but provides further information about the strata’s obligations. Revise for your situation as needed:
Dear Strata Council,
I am following up on our earlier email correspondence regarding disability access at [building name/strata#]. As you are aware, I am a wheelchair user with [diagnosis] living in this building. Currently, I do not have equal access to my apartment/unit/common property because there are no proper disabled access doors that would allow me unobstructed access from my parking space into the main foyer and elevator. I am also unable to access the garbage/recycling room and the common area. In order to ensure that I have equal and dignified access to my apartment and common areas in, I am requesting the following (listed in order of importance):
1. Automatic (push button) disability access doors be installed to allow equal and dignified access to the foyer from my parking space in the parking garage on the ground floor. This will require two push-button automatic doors be installed.
2. Proper access to the garbage/recycling room to allow me to put my garbage and recycling in the proper receptacles. This can probably be done relatively easily by changing the spring tension (or purchasing a lighter spring tension unit) on the access door and ensuring a clear access route to the receptacles.
3. Proper access to the exterior common area. A wheelchair ramp will have to be installed to allow me to access the exterior common area in my wheelchair.
In earlier discussions, representatives of the strata and builders mistakenly suggested that it was my responsibility to pay for the renovations required to allow me to have equal and dignified access to my apartment and to common areas. It may assist you to know that the BC courts have ruled that an owner must have access to his/her property, that this access must be equal and dignified. The courts have been very clear that it is the responsibility of the strata to provide for equal and dignified access and it is NOT the responsibility of individual owners to pay for such access. Furthermore, the courts have been rather unsympathetic to strata councils that have dragged their feet on these renovations, and have provided further relief to disabled owners and tenants by awarding punitive damages in addition to court costs and costs of renovations.
Of course, this is all moot, as I’m sure that the strata will act quickly to provide me with equal and dignified access to my apartment. In doing so, I ask that any renovations to allow for my equal and dignified access be done only in consultation with me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
[Strata Owner/Your Name]
For further information on how to proceed with a request to a strata council, contact:
The information in this blog is for your information only and should not be construed as legal advice.
We would love to hear from other Peers who have advocated for change with their strata, to get a broader range of what works and how to proceed for those who are just starting the process.
We also suggest reviewing the recent decision by the BC Human Rights Tribunal that rules in favour of a Vancouver Island wheelchair user after years of attempts to get her strata council to make needed accessibility changes.
If you have any questions about where to start, contact our toll-free InfoLine at 1-800-689-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit our online SCI Info Database for more advocacy and accessible housing information.