Washington Community Settles Disability-Based Discrimination Complaint

The owners, builder, and designer of a three-building dormitory-style property near a university campus in Washington settled a fair housing complaint alleging failure to design and construct the buildings in compliance with the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) accessibility requirements. The FHA requires new multifamily housing constructed after March 1991—including dormitory-style housing—to have basic features accessible to persons with disabilities.

In its complaint, the Justice Department alleged that the community was designed and built with various barriers inhibiting access to the 12 ground-floor units and the associated public and common-use areas at the property. Those barriers include: inaccessible building entrances; inaccessible routes to the buildings; inaccessible parking, bathrooms, closets, and electrical outlets; and door knobs throughout the buildings that make entrances inaccessible to many people with disabilities.

The lawsuit arose from a HUD complaint filed by fair housing advocates who allegedly inspected the property and observed accessibility barriers. After conducting an investigation, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department.

Under the settlement, the defendants will retrofit the properties to make the 12 ground-floor units and common areas accessible, pay $10,000 to the advocacy group, train new employees on fair housing requirements, and adopt a nondiscrimination policy.

“The Department is committed to ensuring that new multifamily housing—including housing designed for students—is accessible to persons with disabilities,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This lawsuit and its resolution are just the latest steps in the Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure equal accessibility for persons with disabilities.”

“Housing units that don’t meet the needs of persons of disabilities make it impossible for them to enjoy their homes,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Providers that built housing after March 1991 have an obligation to construct units that are accessible to persons with disabilities, and HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to ensure that they meet that obligation.”