Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced what is believed to be the largest disability related based housing discrimination settlement fund to resolve allegations that a number of entities located in Texas discriminated on the basis of disability in the design and construction of multifamily housing throughout the United States.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay $10,250,000 into an accessibility fund to retrofit a number of properties and to increase the number of accessible housing units in various local communities. The agreement also mandates that the defendants pay a $250,000 civil penalty. This is believed to be the largest civil penalty the DOJ has obtained in any Fair Housing Act case.
Make no mistake, as a defense lawyer I know there are always two sides to every case and just because the DOJ files a complaint it does not mean the allegations are true and/or complete. We all should take the time to review both sides before making up our minds.
Following an investigation after which DOJ concluded that there were accessibility barriers at various properties, the government filed the complaint in March 2009. In addition to the $10.5 million payment, the consent order prohibits the defendants from discriminating on the basis of disability in the future and ensuring the retrofitting will indeed take place.
This case reflects another cautionary tale that confirms builders of multifamily housing must review the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and evaluate accessibility issues at the outset of a project or risk significantly greater expense to retrofit properties. Let me repeat: when building new multifamily housing you must fully comply wit the design and construction requirements of the FHA and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Or you may really need a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.