Justice Dept. Sues L.A. to Recover Millions in HUD Housing Grants

The Justice Department recently sued the City of Los Angeles and its former redevelopment agency, alleging that they fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in HUD housing grants by falsely certifying that the money was being spent in compliance with federal accessibility laws.

The complaint, which replaces one previously filed on behalf of the United States by a whistleblower, alleges that the city and the agency received federal money by falsely promising to create accessible housing for people with disabilities. The city repeatedly certified its compliance with federal accessibility laws to obtain the federal funds without taking the required steps to ensure it complied, according to the complaint, which further alleges that many of the HUD-assisted apartment buildings failed to meet minimal accessibility requirements. The complaint alleges that the city approved the design and construction of inaccessible buildings, with, among other things:

  • Slopes and ramps that are too steep for safe passage by persons with mobility disabilities;
  • Door thresholds that are too tall for wheelchairs to roll over;
  • Steps that prohibit access to common areas;
  • Kitchen cabinets, shelves, and surfaces that are outside of the accessible reach ranges of persons who use wheelchairs;
  • Sinks, grab bars, mailboxes, and circuit breakers mounted beyond the reach of wheelchair users;
  • Pipes below sinks and lavatories that are not insulated, thereby posing a physical threat of burns to people who use wheelchairs; and
  • Insufficient numbers of accessible parking spaces in garages and lots.

The complaint alleges that the city and the agency violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act, as well as failed to fulfill their duty to affirmatively further fair housing. The accessibility laws require recipients of federal funds to operate their housing programs in a manner that is accessible to people with disabilities.

Among other things, the federal accessibility laws require that recipients of federal monies have a method in place to avoid giving accessible units needed by people with disabilities to people who do not need accessibility features. The laws also require that recipients of federal monies monitor apartment buildings to ensure they are designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with the law so that, among other things, 5 percent of all units in certain multifamily housing will be accessible to people with mobility impairments, and an additional 2 percent will be accessible to people with visual and auditory impairments.