Most people want to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible as they age – but what if you were to find suddenly that the place you call home no longer meets your needs? This was the situation 76-year-old Victorian woman, Anne Black was faced with after an unsuccessful operation resulted in her needing to use a wheelchair. However, she wasn’t about to leave her home without putting up a fight!
Ms Black is the owner/occupier of a fourth-floor apartment in one of Melbourne’s inner suburbs. While she was still able to access her apartment itself after her physical health had declined, the common areas in her apartment building were not fully accessible and presented her with a number of challenges. She asked the owners’ corporations responsible for maintaining the building to make modifications so that she could access the buildings’ common areas independently; including the main entrance, courtyard and carpark. However, when the owners’ corporations failed to make the necessary changes, Ms Black pursued the matter under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act. The Act requires public entities to make reasonable modifications to enable a person with disability to access a service, and includes specific reference to owners’ corporations.
Complaints lodged under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act are dealt with by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Ms Black’s case was heard by the Tribunal in 2018, and the final ruling could have major implications for anyone who happens to find themselves in a similar situation to Ms Black’s in the future. The Tribunal ordered the two owners’ corporations responsible for maintaining the building to jointly pay Ms Black $10,000 in compensation. This was in recognition of the fact that Ms Black had experienced significant hardship as a result of not being able to access her home for several months, and being placed in a vulnerable position by being forced to rely on strangers for assistance during this time. Importantly though, they were also ordered to make the necessary modifications to enable Ms Black to access the common areas of the building independently; which involved widening doorways and installing automated doors, ramps and handrails.
The Building Code of Australia was updated in 2011 to require common areas in all new apartment buildings to meet minimum accessibility standards. Ms Black’s case, however, offers hope for those older buildings that were constructed before this time. The Tribunal’s ruling clearly states that owners’ corporations are required to make modifications to apartment buildings to accommodate the access needs of owners and occupiers with disability. Not only is this a huge win for people with disability now, but it’s also a huge win for anyone whose access needs happen to change in the future.
A full summary of Ms Black’s case is available via the Human Rights Law Centre.