The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has awarded a Nanaimo condominium resident $35,000 for impact to dignity, feelings and self-respect and ordered the condo strata to modify the building and grounds to make it wheelchair accessible. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo resident wins human rights tribunal case over wheelchair accessibility at condo complex

Tribunal awards $35,000, says concerns weren’t addressed until human rights complaint had been lodged

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Nanaimo condominium strata to pay a resident $35,000 in damages and make modifications to the property to make it wheelchair accessible.

The orders were handed down Friday by tribunal member Grace Chen following a hearing held in Nanaimo and Vancouver July 27-31 to address a complaint filed in 2017 by Ada Jacobsen, 76, a resident of Eaglepoint Bayview complex located on Blueback Road.

According to the tribunal’s findings, Jacobsen did not have mobility issues when she moved into the complex in 2003, but has suffered declining health and started to have difficulty walking in 2014. By 2016 she used a wheelchair for mobility and became unable to leave her condo without assistance from friends.

The primary problem areas with the strata included a set of hallway stairs and a platform at the front door of her building that slopes so steeply she can’t control her wheelchair on it. Jacobsen suffered an injury to her leg when she collided with a friend’s car after losing control of her wheelchair on the platform, and also requires the help of another person to push her up the incline and through the front door.

A paved pathway to the complex’s community centre where the strata holds its annual general meetings is also too steep and a portion of it “jagged” making her unable to use it independently. Another resident who uses a wheelchair in the complex also won’t use the path, notes the tribunal decision.

Jacobsen had been asking for modifications to improve accessibility to the access ways beginning in 2014.

The strata called upon the Rick Hansen Foundation to assess the building and the foundation noted in October 2018 that the building did not meet the standards of its program and indicated the it was unlikely the hallway steps could be modified sufficiently due to the design of the building, which was constructed in 1982. Jacobsen consulted a wheelchair lift company to see if one could be installed on the steps, but was told installing one would would block hallway access and become a building code issue.

The Rick Hansen Foundation also said the front door ramp was too steep and recommended handrails be installed on both sides of a level landing as a resting point for users. The current ramp, it said, was unusable for wheelchairs because of a drop-off creating a tripping hazard at the end of the ramp.

In all, to accommodate Jacobsen the strata installed an automatic front door, altered the front-door platform, installed a new intercom, paved the community centre pathway, provided a new parking spot and widened it for wheelchair access and installed rails on both sides of the hallway steps, but Chen noted that all of those actions were only carried out after Jacobsen had filed her complaint in 2017 or after the foundation provided its feedback in 2018.

“No one should have to spend their golden years fighting with their strata to get their accommodation requests addressed,” Chen wrote in her decision. “The strata did not take requests seriously until she filed her human rights complaint … In all of the circumstances, I find that there has been a substantial impact on Ms. Jacobsen’s dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

Chen also ordered the strata to obtain architectural drawings to install a lift in the hallway or an external elevator, engage an architect, engineer or building code specialist to determine potential solutions and to implement the chosen solutions within nine months of the order.
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