Disabled woman wins landmark case after landlord stopped her from adapting home
A disabled woman has won a landmark discrimination case against her landlord after she was told she could not adapt her home to suit her needs.
Stacey Smailes, 33, was forced to move out of her flat with her husband when their landlord refused to budge from a term in their lease which prohibited alterations.
The judgment in Mrs Smailes’ favour on Wednesday means landlords must now allow disabled leaseholders to make alterations to their homes that are reasonable and necessary.
Mrs Smailes suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which affects her joints, ligaments and blood vessels and restricts her mobility.
She had requested permission from Clewer Court Residents Limited to make alterations to her kitchen and bathroom at her flat in Clewer Court, Newport (pictured), which she and partner Andy owned the lease to.
But she said their requests were met with “hostility” by landlords who even asked her to “prove” her disability, despite a report stating the proposed changes would not affect other residents.
Mrs Smailes, who has a 16-month-old son, said: “It’s been a rough four years and we’re relieved to finally get to the end of it.
“I’m only 33, and on a good day I probably don’t look disabled.
“I think that’s a big part of the misunderstanding about what it is to be disabled and what people need in terms of independence.
“Independence for me means being able to do everything a young mum does.
“As much as possible I want to be able to do as much as possible myself.”
Mrs Smailes asked to turn her living room into a kitchen, as the flat’s original one was small and was difficult to access when she was in her wheelchair.
She also asked that her bedroom door be made as close to her bed as possible which would allow her to go to the toilet independently at night and see to her son.
Mrs Smailes, who manages an outreach service for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses going to court, was forced to provide numerous reports proving her disability, including one from an occupational therapist that her landlords wanted to be able to share with other residents.
She said: “At a meeting it was questioned if I was actually disabled at all, or whether I really needed these changes, or whether I just wanted them and was using my disability as an excuse to get something they didn’t think I needed.
“To have those questions asked in that environment where no one was willing to give me an opportunity to speak or willing to take on board that I was disabled was really hurtful.
“Following on from that it was just one roadblock after another.”
Just over three years after they had bought the property the couple felt unable to stay at the flat and moved to live with Mrs Smailes’ mother in May 2017, where they remain with their young son.
In December last year Mrs Smailes’ disability discrimination case was brought to Cardiff County Court after being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
On Wednesday Judge Milwyn Jarman QC ruled that Clewer Court Residents Limited should have agreed to let Mrs Smailes’ carry out the alteration works, which were reasonable in light of her disability.
The judge also found that Mrs Smailes had been harassed by the landlord ?at their meeting to discuss their proposal.
Following the hearing Mrs Smailes said she was “relieved” and hoped the decision would stop other disabled people experiencing the same problems in future.
A remedy hearing has now been scheduled for April.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the EHRC, said: “We are pleased the court has clarified that landlords must change lease agreements to allow alterations that are reasonable and necessary.
“This issue affects many disabled tenants and we hope that today’s ruling will go a long way to ensure that disabled people can enjoy their right to independent living.”
Sarah Conroy, a partner at Weightmans solicitors, said: “This judgment provides crucial clarification on the law, and we hope that it encourages a wider shift for disabled leaseholders allowing them to enjoy independent living in their own home.”
Neil Heslop, CEO of disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said: “This judgment goes someway to protecting the dignity and independence of disabled tenants faced with this grossly unfair situation.
“All too often, landlords are forcing disabled people to live in homes that are totally inappropriate for their needs.”
WORK ON DISABLED TEENAGER’S HOME STILL NOT FINISHED 18 MONTHS ON, JUDGE TOLD
A severely-disabled boy is still living away from his family while waiting for his home to be adapted six months after a High Court judge told council bosses they should be doing more.
Lawyers representing the council involved have now told Mr Justice Hayden that work will not be completed until the middle of 2019.
The judge is analysing the boy’s case at hearings in the Family Division of the High Court.
He has heard how the youngster, who is in his early teens, moved into a specialist unit about 18 months ago.
It was meant to be a short-term placement while building work was carried out.
Council bosses and a housing association had agreed to foot most of the bill.
At a hearing in July, the judge suggested that the boy’s human right to respect for family life was being undermined and said council officials had “fallen short”.
He suggested that proposed building work was not complicated and said: “We are talking about a loft conversion, widening doors and a lift.”
Lawyers representing the council have now told of glitches and said work will not be completed until late May.
Mr Justice Hayden said the time the boy had lost could never be recovered and added: “It really does behove everybody here to strain every sinew to see that this plan has no more glitches.”
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