CITYWIDE — The Santa Monica City Attorney’s office wants to hear stories of tenants and landlords working together to improve the lives of residents with disabilities.
The City’s Consumer Protection Unit has launched a new website that will print an annual collection of 50 real-life stories about accommodations and modifications that can be made to improve access and enjoyment of housing for tenants with disabilities.
Gary Rhoades, Deputy City Attorney with the Consumer Protection Unit said his office has already gathered 10 stories to launch the site but the site includes a submit-your-own-story feature to help fill out the remaining 40 slots.
“Every week in Santa Monica and all over California, tenants and landlords are coming up with inexpensive and nifty solutions to accommodate problems,” he said in a statement. “But also every week, other tenants and landlords are looking for information and examples to help them reach a resolution. By providing The Nifty Fifty free and online, we are putting the many real-life solutions to work for everyone.”
The site includes: an annually renewed list of 50 recent stories, hyperlinked summaries with detailed stories on a separate page, a “like” button, information on how to request an accommodation, links to other housing and disability resources, a submit-your-own-story button, brief legal analysis of each example, summaries of the all-time top five California court decisions involving reasonable accommodations or modifications.
Rhoades said the motivation for the city came from several sources.
“In 2012, we noticed there was a surge in inquiries and complaints from tenants with disabilities about their needs for accommodations and both they and their landlords were turning to us for help in figuring out what could be done in the most efficient way,” he said.
He said staff members were also having trouble finding real-world examples of successfully resolved cases, commonly referred to as reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications.
“We’d go online to see what’s new in terms of real life examples and there was nothing in terms of a website that provides that,” he said. “Most of the examples out there are these really dry examples that HUD and the Department of Justice wrote years ago.”
He said the City’s Disabilities Commission also played an important role in developing the idea.
“They are experts in accessibility issues with serious commitment to our community, and they not only gave us their blessing during one of their hearings, but also provided support and expertise throughout the building of the site,” he said. “The Commission was the godfather of the Nifty Fifty.”
In the official announcement of the site, the Attorney’s office said local resident Juditte Erki experienced the kind of case that could have been helped with the website.
Erki is in a wheelchair and had a specially marked parking space to accommodate her ramp-equipped van. Her landlord converted the space to a valet only and Erki was unable to find any resources to help her request an accommodation to the new policy.
“The Nifty Fifty is very helpful,” said Erki, “The website tells the stories of tenants who faced a problem in their home like I did, and then it shows you ways you might deal with it. While the CPU wrote a letter to Sea Castle for me, and I got to keep my parking space, the next time I have an issue, I will check The Nifty Fifty first before I call.”
Rhoades said several City employees deserved credit for the sites content and easy of use.
“The Web Development Team designed and coded The Nifty Fifty so that users of all abilities and disabilities have equal access to information and functionality,” he said in a statement. “And the site looks just as great on a smartphone as it does on a desktop or laptop.”
He also credited Andrea Cavanaugh, an investigator with his office, for working with the initial submissions to find good examples on which future submissions can be modeled.
“She’s done a lot of work on this website,” he said. “With drafting of the stories, helping folks craft their stories and picking out the photographs.”
Rhoades said the overall look and feel of the site is designed to encourage interaction by readers and display cleanly no matter how readers access the site.
“It’s got a really smooth, Instagram feel to how it works on the smartphone,” he said. “It’s just really simple and great looking in design.”
He said he hopes residents statewide will utilize the website, www.reasonableaccommodations.org or find the information via smconsumer.org. He hopes to have the full 50 stories in place by National Fair Housing Month in April 2015. The authors of the two most popular stories (as judged by the number of “likes” they receive by February of 2015) will be invited to speak at Santa Monica’s April 2015 fair housing workshop, with their expenses for the trip covered.

matt@smdp.com

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