By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Sadly, once again, I’m seeing reports of homeowners associations denying disabled residents the right to safely enjoy their homes.
The latest reports come to us from Tennessee, where residents from two HOA-governed communities have filed complaints with the Tennessee Fair Housing Council (TFHC).
Veteran, amputee denied wheelchair ramps by his HOA
News Channel 5 and The Tennessean report that the Meadows of Seven Points HOA (Hermitage) ordered William and Selross Adams to remove two wheelchair ramps from their home.
William is a Vietnam Veteran with diabetes, PTSD, and poor circulation which led to the loss of one leg and a toe. Although he sometimes uses a prosthetic leg, walking more than a few steps is difficult for William, so he uses a wheelchair most of the time.
According to The Tennessean, Selross says Danny Bundren, who once served as the HOA’s attorney and treasurer, demanded the Adams take down their ‘unsightly’ wheelchair ramps. The homeowners were threatened with a $1 million lawsuit if they did not comply.
Fearing a financially-devastating lawsuit, the couple removed both Veteran’s Administration approved ramps, and filed a complaint with TFHC. Now Selross struggles to help her husband in and out of the house to get to his medical appointments.
William is soon having surgery to remove another toe. He and his wife are worried about how they’ll manage without the wheelchair ramp.
Fair Housing complaints against HOAs common
The Tennessean also reports that Harold and Janet Patterson also filed a fair housing lawsuit with Beacon Hill Village homeowners association (Old Hickory).
Harold is a survivor of traumatic brain injury, which occurred during major heart attack ten years ago. Due to his disabilities, Harold can no longer safely climb stairs.
The couple worked with an architect and their condo association to design a plan to convert their lower level to living space for Harold. But the condo association denied their request. The Pattersons’ TFHC complaint is currently under investigation.
Tennesse has seen its fair share of disability claims against HOAs.
In 2015, TFHC, filed a complaint on behalf of Charles and Melanie Hollis and their two children against Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association (Franklin). The Hollis children have Down syndrome, and the family had requested approval for a sun room addition where they children could play and receive physical therapy.
The HOA denied three architectural designs, before finally approving a fourth request — with conditions. The HOA insisted on a shingle roof, instead of a less expensive metal roof. The homeowners requested an accommodation with regard to roof materials, but the HOA wouldn’t budge, effectively denying approval for the sun room.
Amid the stress and hostility of a highly emotional dispute, the family moved to another home before their lawsuit was settled. The HOA was ultimately ordered to pay $156,000 to the Hollises. (See: HOLLIS v. CHESTNUT BEND HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION and Tennessee HOA pays $156,000 to settle disability-discrimination lawsuit (Consumer Affairs))
HOA denials of Fair Housing claims breed animosity and stress for the disabled and their families
More recently, Tennessee homeowner Andrea Barnes lost her life while awaiting a determination of her fair housing complaint with TFHC. The 46-year-old wife and mother of three children suffered from Meniere’s Disease, a condition of the inner ear which causes problems with balance and sudden onset of vertigo, nausea and vomiting.
The Barnes family requested that she be allowed to store her trash cans on a level portion of her yard near the driveway, to avoid having to move the cans up and down the hilly driveway into her garage. The homeowners even created a screen to conceal the trash cans from view. Still, her Nolensville area HOA denied the request.
I am told by the family that the dispute with the HOA spilled over into the community. After TFHC began to investigate the complaint, Andrea and her family were shunned by neighbors and Andrea was branded as a troublemaker.
Likewise, Selross Adams tells The Tennessean that she and her husband, William, feel ‘humiliated’ and ‘unwelcome’ in their own neighborhood, where people are so ‘mean and violent’ that she cannot trust them.
Fair Housing Acts, ADA don’t change hearts
Unfortunately, these Tennessee families, and countless other people with disabilities in the U.S. face discrimination every day.
In 2013, in its report entitled Prevalence of Disability and Disability Type among Adults, United States – 2013, The Centers for Disease Control found that 1 in 5 adults, or 53 million American live with a disability.
Despite U.S. laws such as the 1988 Fair Housing Act and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, people with disabilities — and their families — are often treated as second-class citizens. Because of their appearance, their speech, their mobility challenges, or other disabilities invisible to the naked eye, they are viewed as less valuable than someone without a disability.
Although federal and state laws prohibit discrimination, and help to ensure that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for disabled residents, those laws cannot force HOAs and neighbors to be kind and compassionate.
Furthermore, many HOA-related disputes are tied up in the court system for years before they are finally resolved. During that time, disabled residents often suffer the effects of ignorance and unkindness.
In fact, bad behavior is magnified in HOA-governed neighborhoods. That’s not surprising when you stop and consider that an HOA’s typical neighborhood priority is keeping up appearances in the name of protecting property values, instead of promoting social values such as caring for one’s neighbor.
Any one of us may find ourselves disabled tomorrow, next month, next year, or in our old age. Think about how it would feel if your neighbors cared more about petty HOA rules and standards than your well-being.
Hopefully the following reports of shameful behavior by two Tennessee HOAs will prompt normally silent neighbors to speak up and show kindness and support for William and Selross Adams and Harold and Janet Paterson, before it’s too late.
Disabled Veteran fighting HOA to keep his wheelchair ramp
Posted: 7:03 PM, Mar 01, 2019 Updated: 8:31 PM, Mar 01, 2019
By: Kelsey Gibbs, News Channel 5
HERMITAGE, Tenn (WTVF) — A disabled veteran fights his homeowner’s association for a wheelchair ramp.
The veteran and his wife say they were told to take down the ramp or face a lawsuit. Everyday 69- year-old Selross Adams finds the strength to help her soon to be 72-year-old husband get in and out of the house.
Trapped in their own homes: Disabled residents denied needed modifications by HOAs
Sandy Mazza, Nashville TennesseanPublished 8:00 a.m. CT Feb. 28, 2019 | Updated 10:30 a.m. CT March 2, 2019
William Adams pushed his wheelchair up to the garage door and braced himself in the doorway to rise.
He gripped a railing as he carefully navigated a few stairs down.
Then he leaned against the couple’s car as he shuffled around to the passenger’s side.
His right leg, amputated below the knee, is fitted with a prosthetic that can’t be pushed on too heavily.
“I don’t feel comfortable going out here early in the morning and walking around,” Selross Adams said. “People are so mean and violent now. I don’t trust them. He took away the joy and the expectations we had for getting this house. It’s humiliating to feel unwelcome.”