Disability-Based Discrimination Alleged at Montana Apartment Community

September 26, 2013
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The Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit accusing the owners, builders, and designers of an eight-unit rental complex in Helena, Mont., with violating fair housing law by designing and building the complex with barriers that make it inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. Among other things, the law requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 12, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground-floor units.

The case was filed after a fair housing organization filed a complaint, claiming that its inspection revealed accessibility barriers to four ground-floor units and related common areas. The alleged barriers include inaccessible building entrances; no accessible parking; insufficient accessible routes into and through the units; light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls inside the units in inaccessible locations; and kitchens that are inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and a court order requiring the owners, builders, and designers to retrofit the property to bring it into compliance with the Fair Housing Act. The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct; the allegations must still be proven in court.

“Since 1991, the Fair Housing Act has required that when new multifamily housing is built, it must be accessible to persons with disabilities,” Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “When apartment complexes are built with steps and other barriers, those with disabilities are denied that equal housing opportunity.”

“Congress has recognized that it is important that individuals with disabilities have equal access to multiple family housing. This case serves as a reminder that persons with disabilities, including the elderly, veterans, and those with a disability from birth or from an accident, should enjoy as much as possible the same access to multiple family housing as persons without such disabilities,” said Michael Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice