In this case, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal considered whether an Owners Corporation had unlawfully discriminated against a resident in a residential development by failing to make alterations to the common property to accommodate her disability.
Facts – Black v Owners Corporation OC1-POS539033E  VCAT 185
Since 2015, Anne Black had lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of a residential development. In 2015, she developed disabilities that required her to use a wheelchair which inhibited her from accessing her apartment and other parts of the building.
Ms Black commenced proceedings, pursuant to sections 44, 45 and 56 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (‘the EOA’), against the relevant Owners Corporation asserting that the Owners Corporation was unlawfully discriminating against her by failing to make alterations to the building so she could access the common areas and her apartment independently. Read together, sections 44 and 45 of the EOA essentially provide that a service provider must not discriminate against a person with a disability by refusing to make reasonable adjustments to a service so the disabled person may access or derive a substantial benefit from the service.
The Owners Corporation’s positon was that its obligations were limited to consenting to Ms Black making reasonable alternations to the common property so long as she paid for those alterations. In support of that position the Owners Corporation relied on section 56 of the EOA which obliges Owners Corporations to allow owners to make reasonable alterations to the common property at their own cost in circumstances where those owners are disabled.
Senior Member Steele found that section 56 did not exclude the operation of sections 44 and 45 and therefore those sections applied to Owners Corporations as a service provider. However, the question of whether the Owners Corporation had unlawfully discriminated against Ms Black depended upon whether the alterations required by Ms Black were reasonable within the meaning of section 45(3) of the EOA. Submissions on the reasonableness of Ms Black’s requests were not made at this hearing.
This decision is important for Owners Corporations Management as VCAT held that the Owners Corporation was a service provider and therefore bound by sections 44 and 45 of the EOA. This means that Owners Corporations will be obligated to make reasonable alterations to the common property to accommodate residents with disabilities or they may be held to be unlawfully discriminating against them. What is reasonable in the circumstances for for Owners, Committee and Owners Corporation Management remains to be seen.
If you would like further advice on owners corporation OC management matters, James can be contacted by email at JCollier@moray.com.au or by telephone 03 8687 7354. Moray Agnew https://www.moray.com.au/
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