Settlement Reached in Case Against 71 Multifamily Communities in Four States
The Justice Department recently announced that the owners and developers of 71 multifamily housing communities in four states have agreed to pay $350,000 to settle claims that they violated federal fair housing law by building apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. All but two of the communities were built with financial assistance from the federal government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program or other federal programs, and include more than 2,500 ground-floor units.
Federal fair housing law prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. Among other things, the law requires all multifamily housing built since 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 suit also alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes built since 1993, be accessible to persons with disabilities.
Under the settlement, the Alabama-based developers have agreed to make substantial retrofits to make the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities. These corrective actions include replacing excessively sloped portions of sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb walkways to allow persons with disabilities to access units from sidewalks and parking areas, replacing cabinets in bathrooms to provide sufficient room for wheelchair users, and removing accessibility barriers in public and common use areas at the complexes. The developers have agreed to pay $300,000 to establish a settlement fund to compensate affected individuals and $50,000 as a civil penalty.
“Our country prohibits discrimination because of an individual’s disability, and our laws guarantee all people the right to access housing of their choice,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “We will continue aggressively enforcing the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that residential multifamily housing is built with the required accessible features.”