DOJ Settles Discrimination Suit with Owners of 82 Apartment Complexes in 13 States

The Justice Department recently announced that the owners, developers, and builders of 82 multifamily housing communities have agreed to make extensive modifications to their properties and pay $475,000 to resolve claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by designing and constructing apartment complexes that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

The settlement, which resolves one of the largest housing accessibility lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, involves housing communities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. The communities, many of which were built with financial assistance from the federal government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program or other federal programs, have a combined total of more than 3,000 units that are required to have accessible features.

The settlement, which must still be approved by the federal court in Ohio, requires the defendants to take extensive corrective actions to make the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities. These include replacing excessively sloped portions of sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb ramps and walkways to allow persons with disabilities to access units from sidewalks and parking areas, providing sufficient room for wheelchair users in bathrooms and kitchens, and removing accessibility barriers in public and common use areas at the complexes.

The defendants will pay $400,000 to establish a settlement fund to compensate individuals with disabilities allegedly harmed by the violations and $75,000 in civil penalties to vindicate the public interest. The settlement also requires the defendants to receive training about the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to take steps to ensure that their future multifamily housing construction complies with these laws, and to provide periodic reports to the Justice Department.

“For nearly three decades, federal law has mandated that new multifamily housing be accessible to people with disabilities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “And yet, after all these years, some in the housing industry continue to ignore their legal obligations by building inaccessible properties that deny individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live in and enjoy housing on equal terms with non-disabled tenants. There simply is no excuse for these violations of longstanding federal law. This lawsuit and its resolution should send an unmistakable message that this Department will work tirelessly to pursue those who deny individuals with disabilities their federally protected right to accessible housing.”

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status. Among other things, the 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. Enacted in 1990, 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.