Developer and Franchisor of 32 Ohio Properties Settle Disability Discrimination Suit
An Ohio developer and a franchisor of multifamily properties have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that they violated the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) by designing and constructing 32 condominium communities in Ohio with steps and other features that made them inaccessible to persons with disabilities, reports the Justice Department.
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status. Among other things, the FHA requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 12, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground-floor units.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay up to $2.2 million to correct inaccessible features in the common areas of the properties and within the individual units. The corrections that defendants must make to the common areas include:
- Removing steps;
- Replacing steeply sloped walkways;
- Adding accessible routes from units to amenities such as the clubhouse and swimming pool; and
- Providing accessible parking.
The defendants must also offer to pay current owners to correct certain inaccessible features within condominium units, including those found in bathrooms and kitchens. In addition, they must establish a $300,000 settlement fund for people who allegedly suffered harm due to the lack of accessible features at the properties, pay a civil penalty of $51,303, and ensure that any future housing they design or construct complies with the FHA. Defendants also must pay $40,000 in damages to the fair housing advocacy group that originally filed the HUD complaint that initiated this case.
“For more than a quarter century, federal law has required multifamily housing complexes to be built with accessible features,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “This lawsuit is part of the Department of Justice’s continuing efforts to ensure that those who actively participate in the development of multifamily housing fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that the properties are accessible for persons with disabilities as required by the Fair Housing Act.”
“When architects and developers fail to design and construct housing consistent with Fair Housing Act requirements, it’s the same as the property having a sign that reads, ‘no wheelchairs allowed,’” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action to ensure that persons with disabilities, some of our most vulnerable citizens, have the type of housing that meets their needs.”