State sues Collier condo association, alleges discrimination against disabled

Article Courtesy of The Naples News


Published April 17, 2013

— Pickup trucks parked in driveways are a no-no in many gated communities in Naples.

But when the truck belongs to a paralyzed man and it’s rigged with a wheelchair lift, making it too high and wide to fit in a garage, it falls under higher laws than condo association rules.

Instead of branding it a violation, it should have been considered a “reasonable accommodation” for 36-year-old Jason Cain, who lived in Madison Park in East Naples. Yet the condo association warned: “Make the vehicle fit or remove it from the property.”

Those are the allegations in a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General’s Office, which has sued the Quincy Square at Madison Park Condominium Association and its former president, John Flynn, in Collier circuit court.

Unable to work out an agreement, Cain and his parents, Alice and Robert, his caregivers, moved to Sarasota.

“I was really confused and really didn’t understand why I would have complaints against me and seven or eight other truck owners didn’t,” Jason Cain said this past week as he sat in his wheelchair in his former Clemson Street neighborhood. “Then it dawned on me. Either (Flynn) thought I was a liability or just didn’t want someone in a wheelchair there.”

Just feet away, a red pickup sat in the driveway next to the condo they’d once rented.

“There’s no excuse for it in this day and age,” Alice Cain said of discrimination against disabled people. “It’s unheard of.

“We were told there was no problem with parking trucks outside,” she said of consulting with the management office before moving in. “It was just us.”

The association’s new attorney, Chris Davies of 

After surviving a 2007 motorcycle accident, former Naples resident Jason Cain found himself battling with the Quincy Square at Madison Park Condominium Association in East Naples over his wheelchair-accessible truck being parked in the driveway. The association issued several violations and filed a complaint with a state agency to have him evicted. That was halted after he and his parents, his caregivers, filed a complaint with U.S. Housing and Urban Development department, which referred it to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The agency found he’d been discriminated against and the state Attorney General’s Office recently sued the association on his behalf.

Naples, declined to comment due to the pending lawsuit. He doesn’t represent Flynn and said the condo board voted to recall Flynn, who no longer is president.

Flynn couldn’t be reached for comment in Naples or at his Mentor, Ohio, home despite repeated attempts. The current president declined to comment.

It’s the first time since 2005 that the Attorney General’s Office has filed a lawsuit in Collier County to correct what it considers a housing violation.

The lawsuit contends Jason Cain, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a 2007 motorcycle accident, sought a “reasonable and necessary” accommodation, but the association “intentionally and willfully” ignored his rights through illegal actions that harmed him, the public and state.

“By requesting permission to allow Jason Cain to park his wheelchair-accessible vehicle outside the garage, when defendants knew that the vehicle couldn’t fit in his garage ... Cain sought an accommodation that was reasonable and necessary on account of his handicap,” the lawsuit contends.

The denial prevented him from enjoying the condo and violated Florida’s Fair Housing Act, according to the lawsuit, which asks a judge to find the association violated the act, issue an injunction barring further violations and compensate Jason Cain.

Florida courts have treated parking requests as a “reasonable accommodation,” placing that responsibility on a housing provider, even if it involves a cost or the policy doesn’t allow assigned parking spaces or there’s a waiting list for spaces.

The lawsuit stems from a complaint Alice Cain filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She’d snapped photos and gone door-to-door with questionnaires to gather proof that the association’s president, vice president and others parked trucks, vans and vehicles in their driveways and that other garages were used for storage — yet those residents hadn’t received violation notices.

HUD referred the case to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which found there was reasonable cause to believe a discriminatory housing practice occurred.

That halted a complaint the condo association filed against the Cains, seeking arbitration through the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The association, which alleged the Cains were parking a truck outside and using the garage for storage, sought a permanent injunction to prohibit that.

The Cains’ response contended he was entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

The courts

The state said another agency had to make that determination and gave them 10 days to file a fair housing complaint with the government.

“People with disabilities aren’t asking for special treatment when they request reasonable accommodations,” said Shantae Goodloe, a HUD spokeswoman. “Ground-floor rooms, designated parking spaces and ramps may be necessary to conduct everyday activities and gain independence in their daily lives.”

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At Quincy Square, off Davis Boulevard, rules prohibit trucks and vans from parking on driveways, except for service and delivery vehicles.

Yet the Cains say they’d checked and Guardian Property Management told them no rules prohibited that. They signed a lease in February 2010. Six months later, a violation sticker was slapped on Jason Cain’s truck, warning it must be in the garage.

Alice Cain went to the property managers, who knew their situation from their last development. She said she was assured there would be no problem.

Yet the warnings continued and more violations were added. The association’s then-attorney, Robert Samouce, wrote to warn about their trucks and another disagreement between the Cains and Flynn.

Alice Cain consulted with attorney William Morris, who wrote to Samouce, accusing the association of discriminating against a handicapped man. Morris warned that it violated the Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act and demanded that the “harassment cease immediately” or face legal action.

“Your letter is little more than an extension of harassment by the association,” Morris wrote in January 2011.

The association filed its state complaint against the Cains that April.

While Alice Cain was asking neighbors to fill out questionnaires, a neighbor who is a lawyer offered to mediate the dispute and they reached an agreement, she said, but Flynn rejected their terms.

“I wanted the board to be trained, to become educated about this,” Jason Cain said.

His mother, who said the lawsuit is about rights for the handicapped, not money, added: “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”