Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that a New Jersey condominium association must pay a woman with multiple allergies $12,500 to resolve allegations it failed to accommodate her serious medical condition by denying her request to remove carpet from the condominium she owned -- despite a written acknowledgment by its own Board of Governors president that the woman’s request appeared rooted in a “legitimate medical issue.”
Acting on the advice of her treating physician, the woman sought permission in October 2016 to address an allergic condition involving multiple food and chemical sensitivities by having the carpet removed from her one-bedroom unit at the Twin Lights Condominiums in Highlands, Monmouth County. (The woman’s name is being withheld to protect her medical privacy.)
Officials say as part of her request, the woman submitted a letter from her physician verifying that she suffered from multiple food and chemical sensitivities, that she was being treated for the condition, and that removing the carpet from her one-bedroom dwelling in favor of hardwood flooring would help alleviate her allergy symptoms. But the Twin Lights Association subsequently denied her request, setting aside the assessment by its own board president of the woman’s “legitimate” need. In doing so, the Association cited a rule that hardwood flooring was not permitted in one-bedroom units at Twin Lights.
It also insisted that by removing her unit’s carpeting, the woman would be removing an essential sound-deadening buffer between her unit and the dwelling directly beneath hers -- despite a letter from the woman’s downstairs neighbor saying she had no objection to the action.
“Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), condominium and homeowner associations cannot simply dig in their heels and refuse to bend or grant rule exemptions when approached for an accommodation by residents who have legitimate, medically-documented needs such as mobility issues, the need for a service dog or, as was the case in this instance, a significant allergic condition,” Attorney General Grewal said.
“This case should serve as a reminder to condominium and homeowner associations across the state that the LAD was created to protect the rights of people with disabilities,” Attorney General Grewal said. “We are committed to upholding those rights, and any condominium association, co-op, homeowners’ association or individual landlord who violates those rights will be held accountable.”
In addition to paying the woman $12,500, the settlement announced today also calls for Twin Lights to allow the woman the “reasonable modification” of having hardwood floors installed in her condominium as requested, while noting that the Association can require her to install a sound-dampening underlay made of padding/cork as part of the process.
In addition, Twin Lights must report to the Division on Civil Rights on a quarterly basis for the next year.
The quarterly reports must provide information on how many requests Twin Lights receives to provide a disability-related “reasonable accommodation,” as well as how many requests it receives from owners seeking permission to make a disability-related “reasonable modification” at their own expense. The reports must include information on how each request was handled.
Under the settlement, Twin Lights is also subject to a $5,000 suspended statutory penalty for violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The civil penalty will be vacated after a year if the Twin Lights Association has complied in full with the settlement terms, and has not been subject to any another resident complaints that results in a Finding of Probable Cause by the Division.
In his Finding of Probable Cause, Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara wrote, “An accommodation is not ‘reasonable,’ and therefore not required, if it would impose undue financial and administrative burdens on the landlord, or if the requested accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of the landlord's operation.”
Sashihara noted that the condominium owner in this case was not asking the Twin Lights Association to pay for materials or labor, or to oversee installation of wood flooring and, therefore, there were no financial or administrative burdens.
Sashihara wrote that the notion that Twin Lights’ denial was simply intended to protect the downstairs neighbor was “undercut” by the fact that before reaching that decision, the Board members were provided with a letter from the downstairs neighbor stating that she’d performed a “sound test” and concluded that, if anything, “the carpeted portions were more pronounced with sound than the hardwood.”