Courtesy of the Palm Beach Post
Published November 21, 2005
PARK — Lynda Steltz hasn't left her home since July.
who uses a wheelchair, can't use a freedom-giving lift that would carry
her effortlessly from the ground to her second-floor condominium.
Not until a squabble pitting her 14-year partner,
the father of her two young children, against the Harbor View Condominium
Association is resolved.
In what local civil rights activists are calling one
of the most egregious cases of housing discrimination they've encountered
in years, the association is blocking Steltz's partner, Rocco Pellegrino,
from installing the $10,000 lift he bought in July when he realized he no
longer could carry Steltz up and down the stairs.
"It's despicable. It's despicable," said
Vince Larkins, president of the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm
Beaches. "This woman is trapped in her home."
If the board of the 10-unit condominium along the
Intracoastal Waterway just north of Silver Beach Road does not move
quickly to let Pellegrino install the wheelchair lift, Larkins promised
that a lawsuit will be filed in federal court.
"We are not going to sit back and let this
young person be imprisoned by people who don't have sensitivity toward
people with disabilities," he said.
Brent Headberg, president of the association, said
he and Steltz's neighbors want to help the 46-year-old mother, who has
multiple sclerosis. Some residents have even offered to swap their
ground-floor units so Steltz would not have to navigate stairs.
"We want to make accommodations to make her
comfortable," Headberg said.
But, he said, the association has an obligation to
make sure the lift is installed safely. Although the Lake Park building
department wrote Pellegrino a letter Nov. 14 saying his permit had been
approved, Headberg said he hasn't seen drawings to show how the lift will
Without the condominium association's approval, the
town cannot issue the permit.
Pellegrino, a chiropractor, contends that the
association has erected numerous obstacles, such as making him pay
outstanding dues and fix windows that were damaged in last year's
hurricanes before they would bless his request for a permit.
Headberg readily admits the association made such
"How can you come to us and ask for approval
when you're not even in good standing?" he said.
However, civil rights advocates said the issues are
unrelated. Associations cannot demand fees from members in exchange for
favors. According to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the
association must accommodate the disabled, Larkins said.
Headberg insists the problem could have been avoided
if Pellegrino had gotten a permit before the lift was delivered. Instead,
it arrived one Saturday morning and it looked as though Pellegrino was
going to install it himself, he said.
Pellegrino insisted he always planned to get a
As the two sides bicker, Steltz sits — and waits.
"I used to drive him nuts to go places all the
time," she said.