‘These are my legs:’ Windsor resident, housing corporation at odds over mobility scooter storage

A Windsor, Ont., resident has been in a years-long battle over parking her mobility scooters in the hallway of her building — something the building's owners don't want allowed, saying it's contrary to the fire code.

Housing corporation says any items in hallway violate fire code

A Windsor, Ont., resident has been in a years-long battle over parking her mobility scooters in the hallway of her building — something the building's owners don't want allowed, saying it's contrary to the fire code.

For more than a decade, Claudia Stillman has lived at 860 Mercer St., which is run 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 has led to notices from the corporation, telling her she can't keep the scooters outside her apartment as they pose a fire hazard.

In a hand-delivered letter Stillman received on March 25, WECHC said if she doesn't comply and remove the scooters within a week, they will pursue "legal channels."

CBC News has seen the notices and letters WECHC has handed out to Stillman.

"They are my legs, they are my freedom, they are my shopping, this is my transportation. This is everything — this is part of my body," she said.

Stillman told CBC News she needs both scooters to get around. The smaller, secondary scooter is used when she visits certain buildings and in case her main one has to be serviced.

She said she can't store them inside her unit as the entranceway is tight and she's previously damaged the walls by trying to get them inside.

"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 handicapped. It's not right."

No personal items in hallways

Karl Schofield, WECHC's public affairs manager, told CBC News the scooters are a fire hazard and go against the provincial fire code, which is why the building requires all residents to store all personal items, including doormats and bikes, inside their apartment.

While the scooters may have previously been allowed, Schofield said recent inspections by Windsor Fire Services found they cannot be left in the hallway.

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

Windsor Fire's chief fire prevention officer, Mike Coste, is familiar with Stillman's case and said he has "zero tolerance" for violations of the fire code.

He said if a fire broke out and there was smoke, people would need to easily escape and firefighters would have to be able to move around the building without running into different items.

Coste said he asked the building manager if Stillman could fit the scooters in her room and was told yes.

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

"Now it's one scooter, now it's two scooters, what's it next? Three scooters? Imagine if we got … five people in the hallway and they all want to put six scooters out in the hallway or the next guy wants to put their grocery cart, if we start allowing it, then we have to allow everybody, and then it turns on to me, but I'm just following what the fire code says."

When asked if Stillman and others with disabilities can be granted exceptions, Coste said that is determined on a case-by-case basis.

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

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

'We're entitled to equality,' advocate says

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the situation is an example of how building and fire codes weren't developed for people with disabilities.

"We live in society, we're entitled to equality, and full participation and full inclusion, but for too long we've had these codes which failed to effectively take into account our needs," he said, adding the Ontario Human Rights Code prevails over these codes.

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

While Lepofsky said he is not in a position to confirm whether the situation violates the Ontario Human Rights Code, the code does mean landlords have "a duty to accommodate people with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship."

When CBC News told WECHC that the Ontario Human Rights Code notes people with disabilities need to be accommodated, Schofield said they are not restricting Stillman's use of the device — they just want her to 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 that going to the Landlord Tenant Board would be a last resort.

"We would want to engage in fruitful dialogue as to how we can best make this work … there are things that we cannot change, one we can't change the fire code and we cannot change what has been asked of us," she said.

"We can only work together to find a remedy or practical solution."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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