“Oh, put it behind you, will you, they’re only shoes.”
– Glinda to Elphaba in “Wicked”
There comes a time in life that you either learn the lesson or you don’t. For one condominium association in Florida, it’s a “don’t.”
Charlie Burge worked for New York City in the Department of Sanitation for 35 years. He was there on 9/11. When Mr. Burge saw the buildings burning,Hey Dude Shoes ,he ran across the Brooklyn Bridge, not away from the buildings, but toward the carnage, to help. He spent more than 400 days clearing debris and and then sifting through it at the (you can’t make this stuff up) Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where the debris had been trucked, looking for human remains and the belongings of those who died.
He remembers, day after day, seeing loved ones show up looking for belongings and crying, just crying. His reward, aside from the gratitude of the unknown number of families and friends of those who passed away that day, was seven (!) health conditions, including upper respiratory issues, gastrointestinal problems, skin cancer and, of course, PTSD. Federal officials certified the conditions came from the time spent helping others.When Mr. Burge retired, as a general superintendent in the Department of Sanitation, in 2015, he, his wife, and his medical conditions moved to the Links South at Harbour Village Condominiums, a condo project in Ponce Inlet, south of Daytona Beach, Florida. But the gratitude bestowed upon him by the friends and family members of the loved ones who were lost in the 9/11 attack did not follow him to Florida.
Because of Mr. Burge’s upper respiratory problems, he and his wife have no curtains, upholstered furniture, pets, or carpeting of any kind in the unit, nothing that would allow air-borne irritants to get trapped inside the home. Upon the advice of their doctor, they began leaving their shoes in the hallway outside the unit, and thus the problems began. Dr Marten Boots ,The design of the hallway and entryway to their condo unit is such that the shoes could be stored in a place and way that did not disturb anyone’s ability to walk in the hallway. But it did offend the visibilities of the board of directors.
Two years after the practice started, with no known complaints from owners, the Burges received a letter from the board of directors informing them of a violation of the rules of storing items in the common area. They noted if the shoes were not gone within 48 hours, they would throw them away. A week later, the Burges opened their door and noticed the shoes were gone. They called the police, who came and helped them find and remove them from the manager’s office, who was acting on instructions from the board.
The following month, they received another written violation notice. The next day the shoes were gone. Again, the police were called, came and retrieved the shoes. Then the police chief showed up and said he couldn’t waste the time of his officers on a shoe case. So Mr. Burge brought the shoes inside … and his conditions got worse. So, he did what reasonable people do in such circumstances. He hired an attorney. The attorney sent a formal request for a reasonable accommodation based upon his medical problems which accommodation would be to leave the shoes neatly outside the entryway. They provided documents from his medical providers, an academic study on shoe-borne pathogens, and a letter from the World Trade Center Health program which outlined the specifics of Mr. Burge’s medical conditions.
Still the board said no, and asked for more proof and, an explanation as to what accommodation would be necessary. They accommodated the request and provided more information. In the meantime, shockingly, the board president regularly placed his family’s Ecco Women’s Shoes double stroller outside of his unit. Not so shockingly, he received no notice from the board about his violation. Another owner left dog poop outside the unit, to be disposed of later, without any sanctions. Still the board did not give in. Instead, it asked to enter his unit, photograph it and record all shoes and vegetation within the unit and balconies, and requested certified copies of his medical and prescription records for the past two years and copies of test results in the past two years, and more. They complied.
Again the board asked for more documentation. They complied again. (In the meantime, Mr. Burge’s gastrointestinal problems worsened; he started losing his voice; and had trouble swallowing. The board asked for yet more proof, including testing of his shoes, and asked for more medical articles. But the Burges did not comply.
Instead, the attorney did what good attorneys do when you run into people such as those on the Links South board. She contacted the federal government. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, not surprisingly, determined the condo association had discriminated against Mr. Burge. That cleared the way for the Department of Justice to file a civil complaint against the condo association to allow him to store his shoes in the hallway. Still the board resisted.
They started circulating unfounded rumors about he and his wife, and they made comments at meetings about how much in legal fees the Burges were costing the association. The Burges started washing with garden hose attached to a spigot before going inside, to try and meet the board somewhere in the middle, i.e. no dirty shoes outside. The board responded by removing the spigot handle. In August of this year, the government filed suit. But not to worry, the board of directors have promised a vigorous defense. Of course they have.