Astoria woman wins fight for wheelchair ramp

Astoria woman wins fight for wheelchair ramp
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Karen Frantz

A disabled Astoria woman was awarded $60,000 in damages for mental anguish after her landlord refused her pleas to construct a wheelchair-accessible ramp in her building and installed video cameras with views of her apartment apparently in retaliation for her request, the Queens Supreme Court ruled earlier this year.

The court also slapped the building’s owner and manager with a $125,000 fine, upholding a civil penalty originally set by the city Commission on Human Rights, which had investigated the case and represented the disabled woman in court.

The amount is the largest civil penalty to be levied by the commission and upheld by a court.

The owner and manager of the building was also ordered to install a wheelchair ramp to the apartment.

Irene Politis has been wheelchair-bound since 1979, when a car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. The only way she was able to get in or out of her first-floor apartment, at 20-17 18th St., was if her husband, Ioannis, or her son carried her up and down five steps.

In 2008, her husband asked the landlord to install a ramp so Politis could enter and exit on her own, but the landlord did not respond and so he contacted the commission.

What ensued was a legal battle in which the commission argued that the landlord would have been able to provide handicapped access to Politis’ apartment by converting a kitchen window into a door and building a ramp from the door to the street.

But the owner and manager of the building argued the task would have been too difficult and instead had offered to move Politis to a different apartment complex.

Politis rejected that offer, however, because it would not have accepted Section 8 housing vouchers and she wanted to stay in Astoria where she had ties to the community.

The case was heard by the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which conducts administrative hearings for other city agencies. It said the commission had failed to prove the building owner, Marine Holding, and manager, Wen Management, had discriminated against Politis and that converting the kitchen window into a door and building a ramp would have been an undue hardship.

But the commission, which is not bound by the trial office, rejected the decision. It levied a $125,000 civil penalty against the building owner and management company and awarded Politis damages based on her testimony about her experiences during the years after she asked her landlord to install a ramp to no avail.

“During said time she has been trapped in her home during a gas leak while a fire occurred in the apartment next to hers and while explosions occurred at a Con Edison facility within 100 feet of her home,” Queens Supreme Court said the commission found.

The commission also said Marine Holding, the building owner, and Wen Management, the manager,installed two video cameras angled to look into Politis’ apartment in order to harass her in retaliation for demanding a ramp.

Marine and Wen appealed the commission’s decision to Queens Supreme Court, which sided with the commission. It upheld the $125,000 fine but lowered the damages to $60,000 from $75,000, finding the original amount excessive.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.