More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Range of Solutions Can Help Enforce Parking Rules for Handicapped Spaces

By Barbara Burtoff
Saturday, July 28, 2001; Page T07

Here is the situation, as outlined in last week's column: He uses a wheelchair. He was assigned a prime parking spot.

The problem: Some residents use the space while they unload groceries and take them inside. Others use the space while they drop off or pick up children who are visiting grandparents. Since the illegal parker is there only a short time, calling for a tow truck doesn't seem to be the answer, so what is the solution?

Four readers, including a lawyer who works as an advocate for people with disabilities, had suggestions.

DEAR BARBARA: Perhaps the apartment management could assign a few close-in spots for 10-minute loading and unloading. While it would never eliminate the problem, it will make it less likely that someone will take this man's parking spot. At the building I lived in previously, there were spaces designated for loading and unloading and they were a big help. -- D.V., Columbia

DEAR BARBARA: It is not only those who have been assigned handicapped spaces who have this problem. I live in a condominium where I have the assigned parking space closest to the door. I often find that people take my space out of ignorance or laziness.

I park directly behind the person in my space, go up to my apartment and go about my business. When the person returns and wants out, someone finds me. I get a call and I tell the individual I'll move my car in about 15 minutes. The key is to always be polite. The individual learns fast enough that the parking space is not his. -- G.X., Herndon

DEAR BARBARA: I have the answer: Enforcement. No excuses acceptable.

Management authorizes a commercial towing company to roam the parking lot for the immediate towing of illegal parkers. It could cause howls, rants and nasty confrontations between the tower and the illegal parker, but a member of a seasoned towing staff is quickly in and out, avoiding most confrontations. -- D.W., Fairfax

DEAR BARBARA: Being able to live independently is an important goal for people with disabilities. Federal, state and local civil rights laws support this goal by requiring governments, employers, store owners and landlords to provide accessible parking for people with mobility impairments.

The Fair Housing Act also requires apartment owners and managers to provide an assigned spot as a "reasonable accommodation" for someone who could not otherwise use and enjoy an apartment and the common areas.

People who have mobility impairments, whether or not they use a wheelchair, depend on access to parking spaces close to building entrances in order to have equal use and enjoyment of an apartment complex. When enlightened management provides assigned spaces to folks with such disabilities, it is usually because management understands the hardship of dealing with first come, first served parking for people who cannot easily cover a long distance from their cars to the building entrance.

But management's responsibility does not end by merely assigning a close space; rather, it must also help to educate other tenants in the building not to "borrow" an accessible space, even for a few minutes.

While the law places the responsibility on the landlord to provide such parking, it also says that management's failure to respond to the use of the space by other tenants (even if it is only for a short time) may make the landlord liable for violation of the Fair Housing Act. It is in management's self-interest to educate other tenants about not "borrowing" accessible spaces.

Here is what management can do to protect itself and to ensure that the space is reserved for the tenant with a mobility impairment:

If the apartment complex has a newsletter, bulletin board or regular notices that go out to tenants, feature a short article on the importance of a reserved space for the tenant with a disability. Most people will react positively if they understand that their momentary convenience in using the reserved spot is outweighed by the physical and emotional toll on the tenant who has been assigned the space.

Nip the violations in the bud because the practice will snowball as tenants see more people "borrowing" the space. Put warning notices on the windshields of offenders. Some activists have put notices on pink paper. The warning notice contains a polite reminder of what the law requires -- a "handicap" parking sticker, permit or placard -- and the effect of taking a space away from someone who might need it more. The National Capital chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has done such a notice. On one side is the universal symbol for reserved accessible parking with the following text: "You are parked in a space reserved for the disabled or across a ramp used by persons in wheelchairs. This is not a ticket but a reminder. Your future cooperation will be appreciated by those individuals who require these spaces."

Encourage the tenant whose space is being borrowed to keep track of the color, make, model and license plates of offending cars, and the date and time of the offense, and turn the information over to management. At that point, it is incumbent on management to deal directly with the offending drivers, whether they be other tenants in the building or guests of other tenants. This may include friendly reminders, escalating fines or other sanctions, such as loss of privileges to the pool or exercise room for continued violations.

I don't counsel people with disabilities to use self-help tactics such as blocking a car that has borrowed the accessible space. We have seen too many examples of road rage. People with disabilities are often more vulnerable than others to any physical confrontation that may ensue.

Most people are just beginning to understand how important it is for tenants with disabilities to have access to reserved parking spaces. It is a way of "leveling the playing field" for them so they can use and enjoy rental housing in a manner similar to people who do not have disabilities.

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (202-467-5730; works to establish and advance the legal rights of adults and children with mental disabilities and ensure their equal access to the services and supports they need for full participation in community life. -- Michael Allen, senior staff attorney, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Rent Variations

DEAR BARBARA: I have lived in my apartment complex almost 30 years. I just found out someone in my building pays $50 less a month than I do for an apartment of the same size. This person has lived here about 10 years. I would like your opinion about this. -- P.K., Mount Rainier

DEAR P.K.: This has come up before. In fact, a variation of your question was the very first one I was asked 18 months ago when this column started in The Washington Post.

There are many explanations: It could be that 10 years ago when your neighbor was hunting for a place to live, a new building with more amenities or services was opening in your community and your landlord dropped the rent as an enticement to get people over to your building.

Perhaps a manufacturer or government agency moved out of town and your landlord had a lot of vacancies and needed to fill them quickly.

It could be that your neighbor agreed to a lease each year after the first year and you prefer to live month-to-month.

Perhaps the apartments arenot identical. The other unit might have less of a view, maybe a loading dock or a brick wall. It could be on a lower floor or directly above the boiler room. It might have fewer closets, an inconvenient parking space or a kitchen and bath in need of upgrades.

Stop fussing over this. Schedule an appointment with the general manager or leasing agent and ask. That should solve the mystery. If the office person doesn't want to talk to you about this, send a certified letter, return receipt requested, to the appropriate person at the headquarters of the management firm or to the owner. When you learn the reason, let me know.

Barbara Burtoff welcomes comments and questions but cannot reply to each letter. Write to her at Apartment Adviser, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071, or send e-mail to

© 2001 The Washington Post Company