WHAT'S THE LAW?
Condo board can OK handicap ramp
Question: I have a disability that makes it difficult for me to walk long distances or use stairs. I asked the board of directors if I could put a ramp over the stairs leading to my unit. The board president told me that the association would have to vote on it because the ramp would be on the common element of the property. Is it legal for the board to require a vote of the owners?
Answer: According to Cynthia Thomas, Legal Aid Attorney & Fair Housing Project manager: Condo boards are required to manage common elements in accordance with federal and state fair housing laws. The board of directors will generally have the authority to approve or deny requests involving reasonable accommodations and modifications even if common elements are involved. In fact, many condo associations expressly provide for this authority in their by-laws or governing documents. Therefore, if your condo board is conditioning your request upon the vote of the association, it could be a violation of fair housing laws. If you would like more information about housing discrimination laws, call Legal Aid's fair housing hot line at 527-8024.
Q: My husband died three years ago, and I want to go back to my maiden name because no one can pronounce or spell my married last name. How do I go about it?
A: From R. Malia Taum, Legal Aid managing attorney: You may change your name through the legal name change process with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Forms and instructions are located at the lieutenant governor's Web site, www.hawaii.gov/ltgov/office/name. Once you receive the order approving your name change, you will need that order to change your Social Security card, driver's license, property titles, will, etc. An additional caution: If the surviving spouse receives pension benefits from the deceased spouse, the pension or annuity fund might require additional legal procedures to continue payment to the surviving spouse with a different name.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii operates statewide. Practice areas include housing, public benefits, consumer and family law but not criminal law. For information, call 536-4302. Submit questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or by U.S. mail to Legal Aid Q&A, 924 Bethel St., Honolulu, HI 96813.