The Justice Department recently announced that the developers of six multifamily housing complexes in southern Mississippi have agreed to pay $350,000 to settle claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by building apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
The settlement comes weeks before trial was set to begin in early January 2017. As part of the settlement, the developers agreed to make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at the six complexes, which have nearly 500 covered units. The retrofits include eliminating steps; making bathrooms more usable; providing accessible curb ramps and parking; and providing accessible walks to site amenities such as the clubhouses, pools, and mailboxes. The developers agreed to pay all costs related to the retrofits; $250,000 to compensate 25 individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing; and $100,000 in civil penalties.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground-floor units and units accessible to wheelchair users and others with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires, among other things, that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes designed and constructed for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, be accessible to persons with disabilities.
“Housing impacts critical areas of one’s daily life,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “This comprehensive settlement demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities to reside in and visit the housing of their choice.”
“When housing fails to meet the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements it further limits the type of housing persons with disabilities need the most,” added Gustavo Velasquez, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Hopefully today’s action will help developers to better understand the importance of meeting their obligation to comply with the law.”