Damages awarded over disability discrimination at YK building
A property management company did not take sufficient steps to help a Yellowknife woman who has multiple sclerosis, an adjudicator has ruled.
Over a period of years, the tenant reported difficulty using her building’s main and internal doors, opening the complex’s exterior garbage bins, and using the provided laundry facilities.
An NWT human rights adjudicator ruled that while Midwest Property Management had made efforts to respond to those complaints and help the woman, those efforts fell short in some areas.
In a ruling issued on July 28, adjudicator Paul Parker awarded her $7,500 in damages.
“The ongoing inaccessibility of the entry way to the complainant’s apartment building caused considerable injury to the complainant’s dignity, including a reluctance to leave her apartment due to the having to contend with those difficulties,” Parker wrote.
“This made the complainant feel like a lesser person compared to the able-bodied residents of the apartment building.
“I am satisfied the complainant has suffered injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect and she should receive damages to compensate her.”
Midwest is ordered to install power-assisted automatic door openers for the building’s main doors and to modify a ramp up to those doors to ensure it is slip-resistant and does not offer a tripping hazard.
Those orders follow a debate over where the point of “undue hardship” lies when a property manager makes changes to help a tenant who has a disability.
Building managers have a duty, in Parker’s words, to “do whatever is reasonably possible to accommodate persons with disabilities to the point of undue hardship,” which is defined as the point at which “reasonable means of accommodation are exhausted.”
The ramp was originally installed in a bid to help the woman access the building, but Parker agreed with the tenant’s assessment that the ramp’s metal grating presented a tripping hazard and build-up of ice and snow could make it treacherous.
The tenant, Parker wrote, “raised reasonable concerns about how the ramp perpetuates barriers to accessibility to her home,” while Midwest had “not offered any reasonable justification for not modifying the ramp … to remove the barriers the complainant identifies.”
While the ramp met the National Building Code and Yellowknife’s relevant bylaws, the adjudicator said those facts alone did not “necessarily discharge the respondent’s burden to ensure accessibility to the building for the complainant and other people with disabilities.”
“There was no evidence from the respondent that making these modifications to the ramp would be cost-prohibitive or require substantial structural change,” Parker concluded.
“The respondent did not present any evidence that the further cost or time to implement changes to the ramp, to make it accessible to the complainant, would cause the respondent any hardship – not the least undue hardship.”
Parker found, however, that Midwest had made reasonable efforts to accommodate its tenant’s disability regarding laundry and garbage at the building.
Those efforts included issuing her with a laundry card (to operate the machines) so she would not have to travel to another building to acquire one, then later installing a card machine in her building.
More: Read the adjudicator’s decision in full
Acknowledging the tenant struggled to lift the building’s exterior garbage bins, Midwest first had cleaning staff collect her garbage, then installed a smaller garbage bin that was easier to access.
Overall, Parker wrote, the tenant “established that she experienced discrimination as a resident in her apartment building” but this was “not a case where the respondent’s accommodation efforts were negligible, half-hearted, or insincere.”
The adjudicator rejected a related allegation that Midwest had retaliated against the woman once she filed a human rights complaint, saying there was no evidence the company had acted in bad faith.