Q: I am encountering apparently contradictory statements re Disabled Access. We are a block of 26 seafront flats and we own the freehold.
Firstly, I have read that under the Equality Act 2010, if you are a freeholder of a block of flats, you have a statutory duty to allow reasonable adaptions to the communal areas of the block where a request is made by a resident leaseholder. And that all residents have the right to be consulted before adaptations can be made to any communal areas. The costs are usually met by the individual requesting the alterations, who most likely will also warrant that the building will be reinstated to its original condition if they move away.
On the other hand, the Equality Act itself, under its Section 20, talks about Duty to Make Adjustments and says, for example, in part, “The first requirement is a requirement, where a provision, criterion or practice of A’s puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.”
Citizen’s Advice say “The Equality Act says you should never be asked to pay for the adjustments! Can you expand on which of the above applies?
FPRA Chairman Bob Smytherman replies:
I have written numerous articles for our newsletter and lobbied Government on Section 20 which you have rightly stated refers to common areas of leasehold blocks of flats. To the best of my knowledge, the Government never actually implemented S.20, largely for the reasons we lobbied about – which is the conflict between competing rights of disabled people and other users of the common parts of blocks of flats.
The key issue for your directors when considering a request for a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is the reasonableness of the request and being able to communicate clearly and concisely your decision and reason especially if a request is declined.
My own view is when considering a request is what will the impact be on other users of the common areas. For instance, would a stair lift impact on other residents’ means of escape in the event of fire or become a trip hazard?
Certainly, the cost of any adjustment should be borne by the leaseholder making the request, not the general fund, unless there can be demonstrated a benefit to other leaseholders and of course compliant with your lease. If you are unsure what your lease will allow, please share a copy with us and we can ask our lawyers for a view about this and indeed whether S.20 is now a legal requirement. I don’t believe it is.
Another important consideration is insurance. You will need to consult your insurers to ensure that the adjustment does not do anything to invalidate the policy.
[Submitted October 2018]