‘Those are my legs’: Windsor resident and housing corporation at odds over storage of mobility scooters

A Windsor, Ont., resident has struggled for years to park her mobility scooters in the hallway of her apartment building — something the building’s owners won’t allow, saying it’s against the code to prevent accidents. fires.

For more than a decade, Claudia Stillman has lived at 860 Mercer St., which is operated by the Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation (WECHC). She said that for several years she kept her two mobility scooters in the hallway.

But recently, Stillman said, a change in building management led to notices from the company telling him she couldn’t keep scooters outside her apartment because they posed a risk of fire.

In a hand-delivered letter Stillman received on March 25, WECHC said if it did not comply and remove the scooters within a week, they would pursue “legal avenues.”

CBC News has seen the notices and letters that WECHC gave to Stillman.

“It’s my legs, it’s my freedom, it’s my shopping, it’s my transportation. It’s everything, it’s part of my body,” she said.

Stillman lives at 860 Mercer St., which is operated by the Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation. The owners of the building want her to remove her scooters from the hallway outside her unit, claiming it is a fire safety violation. (Jennifer La Grassa / Radio-Canada)

Stillman told CBC News she needed the two scooters to get around. The smaller secondary scooter is used when she visits certain buildings and in case her primary needs maintenance.

She said she couldn’t store them inside her unit because the entrance was narrow and she had already damaged the walls trying to get them in.

“I don’t want a legal battle,” she said.

“This community housing corporation is supposed to be for the people, not against them, especially the disabled. It’s not right.”

No personal items in the hallways

Karl Schofield, director of public affairs for WECHC, told CBC News that scooters are a fire hazard and go against the provincial fire code, which is why the building requires all residents to put away all their personal belongings, including doormats and bicycles, inside their apartment.

Although scooters may have been permitted before, Schofield said recent inspections by Windsor Fire Services found they could not be left in the hallway.

Stillman says she used to be able to park the scooters in the hallway, but in recent years the company has sent her several notices telling her that the paths need to be cleared. She maintains that the hallways are large enough to accommodate her devices. (Jennifer La Grassa / Radio-Canada)

“We have always done our best to accommodate Ms. Stillman and her particular situation. We are not trying to restrict her access. We are simply asking [her] do what all other residents are required to do,” Schofield said.

Windsor Fire’s chief fire officer, Mike Coste, is familiar with Stillman’s case and said he has “zero tolerance” for fire code violations.

He said if a fire breaks out and there is smoke, people should escape easily and firefighters should be able to move around the building without hitting different objects.

Coste said he asked the building manager if Stillman could put the scooters in his room and he said yes.

“I know she can park it in her room,” he said.

“Now it’s one scooter, now it’s two scooters, what’s next? Three scooters? Imagine if we have… five people in the hallway and they all want to put six scooters in the hallway or the next guy wants to put his grocery cart in, if we start allowing it then we have to allow everyone and then it backfires on me but I’m just following what the code says fire prevention.”

Windsor Fire chief fire officer Mike Coste says hallways must be kept clear in the event of a fire. (Jennifer La Grassa / Radio-Canada)

When asked if Stillman and other people with disabilities qualify for exceptions, Coste said that’s determined on a case-by-case basis.

Stillman offered to keep the scooters in a common room, but Coste said that would also violate fire codes.

And the building said if she kept it in a storage closet, they would be liable if anything happened to the vehicle.

“We have a right to equality”, says the lawyer

David Lepofsky, president of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the situation is an example of how building and fire codes were not developed for people with disabilities.

“We live in society, we are entitled to equality, full participation and full inclusion, but for too long we have had these codes that do not effectively address our needs,” he said. , adding the Ontario Human Rights Code. takes precedence over these codes.

Lepofsky is also a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto.

David Lepofsky, president of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says that under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, landlords must review accommodations. (Jennifer La Grassa / Radio-Canada)

Although Lepofsky said he was unable to confirm whether the situation violates Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the code means landlords have a “duty to accommodate persons with disabilities until ‘to the point of undue hardship’.

When CBC News told WECHC that the Ontario Human Rights Code says people with disabilities should be accommodated, Schofield said they weren’t restricting Stillman’s use of the device — they just wanted let her keep it in her apartment.

As for what will happen if Stillman doesn’t comply by Friday, Schofield said the management team will have to sit down and assess next steps, but going to the Landlord Tenant Board would be a last resort.

“We would like to engage in a fruitful dialogue about how best to make this work… there are things we can’t change, one we can’t change the fire code and we can’t change this. that was asked of us,” she said.

“We can only work together to find a cure or practical solution.”