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Condo Smarts: How to urge a reluctant strata council to boost accessibility

Dear Tony: How do we get our strata corporation to put in a switch-activated door for our main entry? My mother, who lives with us, uses a walker as a result of recent surgery, and she cannot open the front door and manage entry safely.
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Tony Gioventu is the executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. SUBMITTED

Dear Tony: How do we get our strata corporation to put in a switch-activated door for our main entry? My mother, who lives with us, uses a walker as a result of recent surgery, and she cannot open the front door and manage entry safely. We are concerned for her safety and for the other owners in the building who are handicapped or aging with limited mobility. We approached the strata council, who claim this is a security risk and the owners will not approve the installation. We inquired if a resolution had ever been in front of the owners for this consideration, and it had not. We would appreciate some leadership on this matter from our council, but they are reluctant to proceed.

Isabelle W., Surrey

Accessibility to common areas and strata lots is a constant issue for many owners, tenants and occupants. Strata corporations have an obligation to provide safe access, and they might be ordered by the Civil Resolution Tribunal, the Human Rights Tribunal or the courts in B.C. to accommodate access to buildings for a variety of reasons. We take much of our daily surroundings for granted when we don’t have limitations, but for those who have limited physical ability, are sight or hearing impaired, or have medical conditions that react to environmental conditions, navigating the front doors, access to the mail box or use of an elevator can be a daunting task.

There are a few options to consider with a reluctant council. Twenty per cent of the owners can sign a petition to demand a special general meeting and place the installation of an automated door system on the agenda. The strata corporation must convene the meeting within four weeks after receiving the notice; however, even if the owners do convene a petitioned meeting, there is no guarantee the strata council will proceed in a timely manner or have a system installed that is safe and meets building code standards. The next option is an application to the Human Rights or Civil Resolution Tribunal. The tribunals have the authority to award the alterations and upgrades required. Strata corporations have a duty to accommodate owners, tenants and occupants to the point of undue hardship. While the costs of an upgrade to a strata corporation might be significant, the objective is to ensure safe access for everyone affected.

While many of us live in older buildings that have limited access, we always have the opportunity to consider alterations and upgrades to increase the accessibility for all owners. While some components and designs might be impossible to upgrade, automated door access, sufficient lighting, manageable ramps and landing areas, braille buttons and switches at accessible elevations, cooling and air conditioning, audible alerts and door handles are achievable considerations.

In addition to the duty to accommodate requests for upgrades, B.C. has now introduced the Accessibility Act to ensure greater access to buildings. CHOA is partnering with B.C. Housing in research to identify common limitations in residential buildings and how these upgrades might be considered. Please take a few moments to participate in a building survey that will assist in planning for future education and symposiums on accessibility. Go to: choa.bc.ca

tony@bc.choa.ca

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.