Disabled Persons Act: Private Residential Apartments

Coronado v. Cobblestone Village Community Rentals (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 831, 77 Cal.Rptr.3d 883

A disabled man who was confined to a wheelchair sustained injuries when his wheelchair tipped over while his wife was attempting to help him over a curb at the apartment complex where they resided. He filed suit against the property owner alleging violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code section 51) and the Disabled Persons Act (section 54.1), and for injunctive relief under section 55.1, alleging that the defendants had a statutory duty to install a wheelchair ramp at the location of the raised curb, so that the plaintiff would have access on the only path of travel between the apartment building and the parking area. He also asserted causes of action for premises liability and constructive eviction.

The trial court granted a non-suit as to the statutory causes of action, rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that because the defendant’s leasing office was a public accommodation and subject to structural access standards, the entirety of the apartment complex, including residential areas, would require public accommodation for purposes of the relevant statutes. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the statutes were not intended to apply to portions of a multi-use facility which are residential in character:

“In a multi-use complex such as this, where there is a commercial office open to the general public but also residential and common areas that are not open to the general public, it is appropriate to consider the particular area in question when attempting to determine the applicability of statutes that provide for structural access standards. We conclude that these statutory provisions did not require defendants to install a curb ramp at the location where plaintiff fell.
. . .
[W]here there is a multi-use facility in which there is a commercial office open to the general public but also residential and common areas that are not open to the general public, it is appropriate to consider the particular area in question when attempting to determine the applicability of ADA structural access standards or other ADA requirements.
. . .
[A] plaintiff seeking to establish a cause of action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act or the Disabled Persons Act based solely on the existence of a structural barrier must be able to show that the failure to remove the barrier constituted a violation of a structural access standard set forth in other provisions of law. In the instant case, none of the statutes that were referred to by plaintiff as the source of such structural access standards was applicable to the residential and common areas of the apartment complex. We have also observed that this result is not affected in this case by the fact that the apartment complex had a leasing office within the facility. Accordingly, no structural barrier cause of action was presented under the allegations and facts of this case as a matter of law and the trial court correctly kept such causes of action from the jury.

In reaching this conclusion regarding the scope of the various statutory schemes, we emphasize that our role is to construe and apply the legislation as it is. This court is not insensitive to the hardships suffered by individuals who have disabilities, but these are peculiarly legislative matters.”

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