The applicant in the case, Anne Black, has disabilities that made it difficult for her to access the common areas of her apartment building, due to heavy manual doors and an unsafe ramp. She was awarded $10,000 compensation, and the owners corporation that manages her apartment building was ordered to install electronic controls for doors and steel kerb rails on an access ramp, as well as widening door clearances.
Ms Black first brought these access issues to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in September 2016, seeking orders for the owners corporations responsible to make alterations so that she could access the building and common areas independently.
Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, people providing services have a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Ms Black argued that the owners corporation had discriminated against her by allowing conditions that prevented her from accessing to the common areas of her building due to her physical disability.
VCAT first handed down a decision in this case in February 2018, but the owners corporation for Ms Black’s building appealed the matter at the Supreme Court of Victoria. The appeal focused on whether the owners corporation provided a service to Ms Black. If they did, then an owners corporation would be required to make reasonable adjustments under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 .
The Commission intervened in the case to assist the Supreme Court to interpret the relevant sections of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. The court found that owners corporations could provide a service under the Act and are therefore obliged to make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability, or they would risk being found to be discriminatory. The matter was sent back to VCAT for an assessment on whether the adjustments being sought by Ms Black were reasonable.
On Wednesday this week, VCAT handed down its decision in Ms Black’s favour. Senior Member Steele found that the adjustments sought by Ms Black were appropriate, having regard to the evidence about the needs of Ms Black, and the financial position of the owners corporation. Ms Black was also awarded compensation:
“I accept that she suffered humiliation, stress, anxiety, frustration and embarrassment. In my view, these experiences were especially painful in relation to not being able to access her home from the street without help.”
It’s an important win for people with disabilities and confirms owners corporations’ obligation to make reasonable adjustments for occupants in the buildings they manage.