A wheelchair-using actor is pursuing legal action against a property management company that she claims has exiled her from her home, amid weeks of delays in repairing a faulty lift.
For more than six weeks Athena Stevens, who was born with cerebral palsy, has been unable to live in the new build apartment in south London that she bought in March 2017.
She told RightsInfo that prior to buying the three-bedroom flat, in Elephant and Castle’s Winch House, she was assured it would be suitable for people with disabilities.
But the elevator broke down 12 days after she moved in, and it has subsequently broken down a further 35 times, she said.
Property manager The Guinness Partnership has placed Stevens in another flat, around 20 yards away from the Tower of London on the other side of the river Thames, while it tries to get the elevator fixed.
Almost seven weeks later, with no clear guarantee of when the situation will be resolved, the 35-year-old has reached her wit’s end and has begun to document her situation on YouTube.
“Its not good enough. I have made it very clear that I should not be kept out of my home for 46 days before a solution is found,” she said.
“I have the right to employment – they have infringed on that. I have the right to live in my home. Mobility is a human right also.”
The Olivier award-nominated actor told RightsInfo that her current accommodation is depriving her of independence and disrupting her professional life, as she now needs to take a boat to work and attend auditions.
The handles of her drawers, closets and doors are such that she is unable to open them, among numerous other issues.
We are on day 46 of #ExiledDueToLift thanks to @YourGuinness. With people across the UK unable to come and go from their flats, management companies are playing with lives. No more.https://t.co/4IcpJwdT0l
Retweet wide y’all. This needs coverage.
— Athena Stevens (@athenastevens) October 28, 2019
A Guinness partnership spokeswoman told RightsInfo that it found Ms Stevens’ temporary flat following an “extensive search”, and said she had agreed it was both suitable in terms of location and quality.
The company had been informed that the location of the flat was unsuitable “quite recently”, she added, and no concerns had been expressed prior to that. Stevens disputes this, insisting that she expressed concerns about the property from the outset.
The spokeswoman added that Guinness has been “trying repeatedly to engage the company who installed the lift”, who will now be attending Winch House on Friday to conduct a comprehensive survey.
She said: “We share Ms Stevens’ frustrations with the time it is taking to address the issue, whilst recognising it is our responsibility to ensure a solution is found.
“We regret that the alternative accommodation, which we found in order to alleviate the immediate disruption to Ms Stevens and which we understood to be acceptable to her, is making her feel “exiled” rather than supported and respected.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to meet Ms Stevens’ needs.”
Equality law prohibits property management companies from unlawfully discriminating against, harassing, or victimising anyone who occupies one of their properties on the basis of a “protected characteristic” such as disability, race, or sexual orientation.
Discrimination could include a company responding more slowly or less favourably to the request of a tenant with disabilities to resolve a maintenance issue compared to similar requests from other tenants.
- Our guide to the UN convention on the rights of person’s with disabilities
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance on equality law for property management companies
- An infographic on what human rights do for disability