The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t require a pool lift be installed at Wilton Station, but David Ferebee thinks principle should have compelled the condo association to provide one.
Ferebee, who is wheelchair-bound and recently moved into Wilton Station with his partner, Bill Cooke, wants the association to pay for the installation of the pool lift and a new battery.
“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request.”
What Ferebee does find unreasonable is the expectation, by the association, that he should have to wheel the 300-pound lift 166 feet from a storage closet to the pool every time he wants to go swimming.
Darrin Gursky, the Miami attorney representing the association, said Ferebee “wouldn’t utilize the pool alone. He would always be with somebody. It’s on wheels and it slides.” But Ferebee said his partner is in no shape to help move the lift either. Dr. Jarod Friedman, Ferebee’s physician, echoed Cooke, and wrote in a letter that it’s not reasonable to expect Ferebee to move the lift by himself.
Ferebee and Cooke say the lift situation is an unfortunate episode for Wilton Station, which was designed to be very accommodating to individuals with disabilities. “It’s actually well-designed for him, ironically. The pool is one of the best things for his condition. It’s just sad now that for two months now he’s not been able to use the pool,” said Cooke.
Ferebee estimates it would only cost about $500 to buy the battery and install the lift, which could also be used by two other handicapped Wilton Station residents. “A few dollars out of our almost $3 million budget to cover the maintenance of a piece of equipment we already own is definitely the right thing to do for all the right reasons,” wrote Ferebee in an email. “Why do they want to fight me on something, in money terms, is such small potatoes?” he asked.
He added that the money spent on attorney fees, by both sides, have already exceeded the cost of installing the lift. Ferebee hopes to avoid more costs, which also includes the fees he’s paid to the association, and have the issue settled without the need to go to court.
Asked why he didn’t spend his own money to install the lift, Ferebee said he’s worried he could be held liable if someone is hurt using the lift and decides to sue him. Gursky said the association also has the same concerns over liability and fairness. He said his client is also worried that other residents will start making demands if the association pays for the pool lift.
“Part of the problem with suggesting to do the right thing is there’s 300 unit owners there and there’s a community component. When is enough enough and when does the association have to be practical? We have a common goal with all the expenses. The association is just trying to comport with the law. The association made no promises to Mr. Ferebee as to the use of the pool.
We will comply with whatever the FHA [Fair Housing Act] requirements are,” said Gursky.
Bob Boutwell, one of the other two handicapped Wilton Station residents supporting Ferebee, said the pool lift is no different than any other item the association would pay to fix. “I think that David’s request is perfectly reasonable. It’s a piece of equipment owned by the condo association. If a gutter over one unit was leaking they wouldn’t ask an owner to pay for that. It would be paid by the entire condo association.”
According to the FHA, “One type of disability discrimination prohibited is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
Jason Weiss, of Weiss Law Group in Coral Springs, who is representing Ferebee, said the association needs to be reasonable and allow Ferebee to “gain access to the pool like any other able-bodied resident.”
But if Ferebee takes Wilton Station to court, a judge or jury might find the condo association has already acted reasonably.
According to Joseph Adams of the Fort Lauderdale law firm Becker & Poliakoff, “The federal Fair Housing Act permits disabled individuals, at their own expense, to make ‘reasonable modifications’ to the common property of an association when such modifications are necessary to permit that individual to use the property for the purpose intended.”
Becker & Poliakoff is a well-known law firm that represents and lobbies for condos statewide.