Red Deer couple feel like ‘prisoners’ as condo board refuses access ramp

A Red Deer couple say they have lost their independence after the condominium board where they live refused to allow them to add a ramp to the front of their home.

Arnold Pipke helps his wife Irene down the step outside their Rosedale home: their condominium association has refused the couple permission to erect a ramp so they can negotiate the two steps more easily and safely.

A Red Deer couple say they have lost their independence after the condominium board where they live refused to allow them to add a ramp to the front of their home.

The Rosedale Gardens board of directors says in letters that the ramp is against the condo bylaws.

Irene and Arnold Pipke moved into Rosedale Gardens in 2005. Their daughter Julie Grieve and her husband Grant bought the property in 2005 for her parents so they could keep their independence into their senior years. The home was purchased before it was completed to ensure that the senior couple would have a first-floor living area with a single attached garage.

In March, Irene’s knee gave out and she needs a walker to get around. The 75-year-old has been assessed and approved for a ramp assistance program, but the Rosedale Gardens board of directors won’t allow the three- to four-metre-long aluminum ramp to go on the front of the house. Without it, Irene can’t manoeuvre the two steps down to the sidewalk in her walker.

Rosedale Gardens board of directors president Bea Harvey declined to comment, saying that she wasn’t on the board at the time this issue started. She referred the Advocate to Sunreal Property Management Ltd., which also declined to speak, referring the newspaper to Melnyk & Company in Edmonton, the law firm dealing with the case for the condominium board. A representative at the law firm was not immediately available for comment.

In letters, the Rosedale Gardens condominium board of directors state the condos were not “designed or ever intended to be ‘barrier free’ ” and described the condos as “an age 40+ independent living complex.” The property is located at 939 Ramage Crescent.

The directors go on to point to condo bylaws, which speak about the need to: “Strictly comply with the architectural and landscaping guidelines of the corporation . . .” and that owners “Not place or erect on any unit any permanent structure without prior written approval by the board.” The condo board suggests placing the ramp or a lift in the single-car garage and parking in the driveway.

Grieve said putting the ramp in the garage would make it impossible for her parents to park their vehicle inside and would mean a whole host of other hazards, such as ice, with Alberta’s winter weather on its way.

“My mother feels like she is a prisoner and I’ve seen (my parents) fading because they have lost their freedom,” Grieve said.

Irene used to go across the street to a neighbour’s home to quilt and she would drop by for regular card games at clubhouse, but now she is stuck in her home. Since April, the only way Irene has been able to leave her home is to have assistance on the stairs with her heavy walker. Arnold fears leaving his wife in the house alone because he worries about her being trapped inside.

“It really has been so stressful to both of them,” Grieve said. “Why shouldn’t they be able to get out there and enjoy life?”

Grieve said she understands the need for condo bylaws, which protect people’s property investment, but she feels the bylaws should have a human interest as well. She hopes to resolve the issue before having to file a formal complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Cassie Palamar, director of education and community services with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, said the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on physical disability. “Someone with a physical disability is protected from discrimination by our legislation in the areas of tenancy and services. We have had some cases with condominiums and they are in fact subject to the legislation,” Palamar said.

She couldn’t comment on a specific case, but she said organizations must make accommodation — or changes — to rules and standards so people are not put at a disadvantage because of their physical disability. She said people who feel that they have been unfairly treated can file a complaint and the commission will first attempt to work with both parties to come to a quick resolution. If it isn’t resolved at that point, then there is a more formal mediation process or there could be an actual investigation of a complaint.

Aaron Tarnowski, the community development co-ordinator with the Red Deer Canadian Paraplegic Association, said accessible housing is one of the largest issues the association faces across Alberta, particularly in smaller cities like Red Deer.

“This whole situation is really unfortunate and really shouldn’t have had to happen. I just think if people or associations were a little bit more open to the fact that accessibility is becoming a big issue in the public eye and it’s growing,” Tarnowski said.

“It’s an issue that really needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. With the baby boom population, it’s not going to go away. It’s only going to get worse.”

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