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CCOC Decision Summary

#561-O, Grinkrug v. Inverness Forest Association, Inc. (February 4, 2003)

The homeowner (HO) who suffered from medical disabilities and was instructed by his doctor not to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds, wanted to pave a dirt path in the common areas behind his unit so that he could wheel a cart from a parking area directly into his rear yard.The homeowners association (HOA) refused permission for this project and ordered him to remove the improvements he had already made to the dirt path.The HO challenged this decision before the Commission, claiming that the HOA failed to offer "reasonable accommodation" for his physical disabilities.

The evidence produced at the hearing showed that the only access to the HO's rear yard was from the first floor of his house.The house's front entrance was on the second floor and was several steps above street level, whereas the house's rear exit to the yard was from the kitchen on the first floor.The dirt path in question was not built or maintained by the HOA, and the HO made improvements to it without requesting or obtaining permission from the HOA.The HO did suffer from physical disabilities.Although the HOA refused permission for improvements to the dirt path, it did offer to the HO the right to construct a ramp from the front parking lot to his kitchen (which had sliding doors at the front of the house) so that he could move heavy items by a cart into the kitchen, and then through the kitchen into the back yard.It also offered him the right to construct a shelter in the front yard for his trash containers so that he could wheel them directly to the street for pickup, but the HO rejected both these offers.

The hearing panel denied the claim.The hearing panel noted that Federal law (the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. 3604) requires the HOA to permit the HO to make reasonable modifications of his existing home in order to accommodate his disabilities.However, the panel noted that the HO did have access to his rear yard through his kitchen door, he simply had no access to the rear yard from the common areas; and in addition the HOA had made reasonable alternative offers that would allow him to wheel heavy objects directly from the front parking lot through his home and into the rear yard.Finally, the panel concluded that the HO's claim for an improved path in the common areas was not a reasonable accommodation, because "it is not reasonable to require the association to assume the liability and risk for maintenance of an area which it has chosen not to maintain for the entire 30 plus years of its existence," therefore the association "should not be required to modify its site plan and policies so long as [other] alternatives are available."

The panel noted that the HOA lacked a dispute resolution mechanism that offered its members an opportunity to be heard in a fair setting, and strongly recommended that the HOA adopt one and file it in the Circuit Court's Homeowner Association Depository.

The panel ordered the HO to remove the improvements to the path within 90 days.

[Editor's note: This decision was affirmed on appeal in Grinkug v. Commission On Common Ownership Communities, Circuit Court #240424, May 18, 2004.]

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