Developers to Pay $11.3M Settlement in Disability Discrimination Case

The Justice Department recently announced a $11.3 million settlement in a fair housing case alleging that the owners of 50 apartment complexes in six states and the District of Columbia failed to build the communities with accessible features for persons with disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act requires that multifamily housing constructed for first occupancy after Mar. 13, 1991, have basic accessible features; the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that places of public accommodations, such as rental offices, at multifamily housing built for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, have accessible features.

As alleged in the government’s complaint, the defendants built the properties at issue with significant barriers that inhibited access to the units and the associated public and common-use areas. These barriers include routes to building entrances with steps and excessive slopes, units with electrical outlets and thermostats that are beyond the reach of persons who use wheelchairs, and kitchens and bathrooms with insufficient space for persons who use wheelchairs to maneuver.

Under the settlement agreement, the defendants must spend $8.7 million to retrofit 36 properties that they currently own. This amount is in addition to $2.4 million in retrofits that had been made to many of the properties after the United States filed the lawsuit. The defendants also must pay $175,000 to compensate victims and up to $25,000 for accessibility retrofits at 14 properties they no longer own. The defendants also agreed to undergo training, to construct any new multifamily housing in accordance with the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and to provide periodic reports to the Justice Department.

“The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that new multifamily housing is built with the accessible features that are required by law,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This comprehensive settlement will ensure that equal housing opportunities are afforded to persons with disabilities.”

“The Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act ensure that persons with disabilities have access to housing, leasing offices, and related amenities,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to vigorously pursuing enforcement of the rights guaranteed by these laws. This settlement is an example of that commitment in the District of Columbia and elsewhere and serves to promote equal access to multifamily housing for persons with disabilities.”