Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced another Fair Housing Act (FHA) settlement, this time with a developer (and several related companies) from West Virginia. To resolve the DOJ’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the defendants agreed to pay $205,000 and make substantial retrofits to remove barriers to accessibility at various multifamily apartment communities. In the lawsuit, DOJ asserted that the developers constructed 23 apartment communities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania with a number of features that made them inaccessible to individuals with disabilities.
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the defendants agreed to take extensive actions to make the communities accessible to individuals with disabilities, including for those who use wheelchairs. These retrofits include replacing excessively sloped portions of sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb walkways, replacing bathroom and kitchen cabinets to provide sufficient room for wheelchair users, widening doorways, and reducing door threshold heights. In addition to establishing a settlement fund of $180,000 to be used to compensate disabled individuals who have been impacted by the accessibility violations as well as paying a $25,000 civil money penalty, the agreement further provides that the defendants are to construct a new apartment complex in West Virginia with 100 accessible units.
While I always know there are two sides to every story, the settlement here is significant as the retrofits are extensive and the cost of building an entirely new community (with 100 accessible units) demonstrates what the DOJ thought were the strengths of its case. As management companies, owners, and developers in the multifamily housing arena know, there are design and construction requirements embedded in the law which must be followed. As we see from this case, if they are not, they you will need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.