B.C. strata ordered to pay $35,000, build tram for senior who can't climb 102 stairs from his home

A person walks up a set of stairs in this undated stock image. (Shutterstock)

B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a strata to pay a senior thousands of dollars and build a tram to accommodate the man who can't climb the 102 stairs leading from his home.

The decision, posted by the HRT last week, determined Gerald Testar was discriminated against when strata did not accommodate his physical disability.

The tribunal heard Testar lives in a unique detached home that requires him to climb seven flights of stairs totalling 102 steps in order to leave.

According to the decision, the 84-year-old's "health has now declined to the point that he has a physical disability." His doctor wrote a letter to strata council supporting this, saying Testar has several serious medical problems, some of which limited his ability to exercise.

"This means that walking on a flat surface is an effort and safely climbing or descending 102 stairs may be next to impossible," his doctor wrote.

"His medical conditions have required several emergency transfers to the hospital by ambulance. The stairs make it impossible for paramedics and fire and rescue support to access his home without life threatening delays to his treatment."

Since he can't go up and down the stairs, Testar hasn't left his home in two years, the tribunal's decision said.

"I have lost my connection to community including a cardiac rehabilitation program," Testar told the tribunal in his testimony.

"I like to interact with people in the community, I like to shop. I have to rely on family to take out the garbage I do not have any independence."

In early 2020, Testar requested a tram be built so that he could leave his home, and presented a quote from Silverspan of just over $131,000. The other strata owners were reportedly against his proposal, however.

"The other owners say that a tram will negatively impact them, is not a reasonable request, and is not a necessary accommodation for Mr. Testar," tribunal member Amber Prince wrote in her decision.

Expressing concerns about the tram option, including the worry that it would need to follow the safety regulations of a commercial tram to be available to multiple dwellings, strata council proposed several alternatives. According to Prince's decision, those included an outdoor vertical lift combined with walkways and ramps, ramps to reduce the stairs by half, a powered outdoor chairlift fitted on existing stairs, and increased sitting areas on the landings of the existing staircases.

Testar's lawyer wrote to council saying the tram alternatives weren't viable, because they would require him to walk significant distances or squat to get on and off a chairlift.

The tribunal heard that, in a 2021 special general meeting, the owners voted in favour of an outdoor chairlift system, plus a possible elevated walkway. Each owner would pay $17,500 for the project.

After that vote, Testar's lawyer wrote back to council proposing each owner pay $17,500 towards the construction of the tram, and the Testars would pay the balance. Prince wrote in her decision there was no evidence that strata responded to that offer.

Ultimately, Prince agreed the chairlift wasn't a reasonable option for Testar, partially because he "has poor balance, dizziness and is prone to falls," which would make it difficult for him to get on and off the lift. Prince also determined Testar did have a physical disability, as defined in the Human Rights Code.

"Mr. Testar is adversely impacted by the stairs because of his physical disability. The stairs adversely impact him in a way that they do not for other residents who do not suffer from his physical disability," Prince wrote, adding that strata is responsible for managing the common property that provides the only access to Testar's home.

"The stairs limit his ability to take part in the life of the community on an equal level with others. The stairs pose a disability‐related barrier to full and equal participation in society."

The strata was ordered to pay Testar $35,000 as compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect. It was also ordered to make all efforts to build a tram within six months.

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