Landmark Discrimination Case Puts Fault with Management Company – Not Landlord

A man with Multiple Sclerosis in London was awarded £9,000 by a judge after successfully arguing the management company did not make reasonable adjustments, which would have allowed him access to the leisure club in the block of flats in which he lived.

In addition to the money awarded to the man for injury to feelings, the court also ruled the management company had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments and applied a discriminatory practice in what works it undertook.

This landmark case has found that management companies are not landlords but, in fact, service providers, which means they have a duty under the 2010 Equality Act to make adjustments for disabled people. This is a consideration landlords do not need to make under the law. This wide ranging judgement is likely to have an impact on management companies that have facilities similar to the ones found in Mr Plummer’s building.

Mr Plummer moved into his luxury apartment in 2010, the main appeal of which was access to Leisure Club situated in the building. As swimming is one of the few kinds of exercise suitable for those suffering with MS, he was hoping to be able to limit the progression of his illness as well as retain his independence by swimming. However, he found that accessing the facilities was difficult and unsafe with his disabilities.

The court heard that the management company running the estate for the benefit of leaseholders which also owns the leisure club, rejected requests brought to them by Mr Plummer and his wife to make the club more safely accessible to their disabled patrons. During the month the management company announced that the Council was refunding the club £78,500 in overpaid business rates, Mr Plummer submitted costing for adaptations, which had been recommended by an inclusive design and accessibility audit. This audit estimated the cost of the adaptations at approximately £5,000 plus VAT.

The judge noted that the management company had never made a proactive move to make adjustments. The court also found that the company applied a policy of only undertaking works that benefitted all residents. This placed people with disabilities at a particular disadvantage including Mr Plummer who had faced indirect discrimination. This was furthered by a “humiliating”survey that asked all residents their opinion on Mr Plummer’s requests, whilst emphasising the disputed costs of the adjustments. The court said this “reinforced existing prejudices” and was used to “justify its unreasonable stance in circumstances where it knew very well what the outcome was likely to be.”

This ruling has made a very clear distinction between management companies and landlords and what is expected of each. Although landlords are expected to soon have to follow similar rules, at the moment, management companies in Birmingham, Manchester and throughout the country will be expected to proactively work towards allowing those with disabilities access to all the services provided.