WEST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A disabled teenager is at the center of a housing fight in New Jersey.
His family wants to install a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of their home, but a neighbor is battling them.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, it’s a struggle to lift 15-year-old Ethan Roman and his wheelchair up the front steps and into his Conforti Avenue home in West Orange.
“We haven’t been able to fully move in yet, because we need a ramp and we don’t have it yet,” his mother, Stephanie Roman, told Baker.
His mom bought the home in October 2016. She got permits to widen doorways and remodel Ethan’s bathroom inside, but she’s been fighting the zoning board and a neighbor ever since to create exits from the house to the street — front and back — to meet international building codes.
Roman’s lawyer told Baker in order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, both the front door and the back exit must be handicap-accessible.
“To me, it just feels like they’re discriminating against my child, who is handicapped. And we, as parents, try to make his life easier,” said Roman.
Ethan has cerebral palsy.
“He’s fed through a g-tube, he doesn’t walk on his own,” his father, Abimbola Lanyan, said.
CBS2 tried getting answers from members of the zoning board. After multiple calls and emails, Baker was told to talk to the town spokesperson, who then referred her back to the board, saying it is a separate entity from the town. The spokesperson only said variances are required, because the ramps would encroach on the required front and side setbacks.
Baker asked Roman whether she looked into what it would take to make the changes outside before she bought the home.
“I did not. But then again, I did ask would we need a permit. I knew about the permit, but I didn’t know they would give us such a hard time,” she said. “I mean, it’s something that our son needs.”
A neighbor is fighting the family’s plan and got a lawyer. That neighbor’s forsythia bushes would be trimmed straight up the Roman’s property line, which is legal. The bushes hang over the family’s existing paver pathway, exactly where the ramp would be installed – out of sight.
“Bushes shouldn’t be more important than having a ramp for a child who is handicapped,” Roman said.
A lawyer for the family said the zoning board may be in violation of the Fair Housing Act after board members suggested the family should have looked into purchasing a different home.
“There could be other homes that are better suited for a handicapped child,” said one board member. “This is not the right house then.”
Roman said the board members also suggested wheeling Ethan straight out the back door to a cement pad in the case of a fire. She said a fenced-in area that slopes toward the home would be extremely unsafe with no clear escape from the property if on fire.
The next hearing on the issue is June 21st. Meanwhile, the Romans remain in limbo.
A neighbor’s lawyer said they were not interested in speaking with CBS2.