Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that developers of six multi-family housing communities in Mississippi agreed to pay $350,000 to resolve claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by building apartment homes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, the defendants promised to make any number of retrofits (including eliminating steps, making bathrooms more usable, installing curb ramps and parking, constructing accessible walks to amenities such as the clubhouse and pool) to remove accessibility barriers – a project that will cover almost 500 units.

In addition to the significant retrofits, the defendants agreed to pay $250,000 to 25 individuals alleged to have been harmed by the inaccessible housing as well as $100,000 in civil money penalties. As is typical in these types of cases, the DOJ also required fair housing training, periodic reporting, and an agreement that any future housing construction complies with the accessibility laws.

DOJ filed the complaint in May 2014, which followed an investigation and an administrative complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The case had been set for trial in January 2017.

The takeaway for professional apartment community builders/owners/designers: among other provisions, our FHA requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 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 ADA requires that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes designed and constructed for first occupancy after January 26, 1993, be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The law also establishes a number of safe harbors will provide a template for how to design and build new multifamily housing.  If you are uncertain how the law works, you might want to consult a lawyer like me in an effort to avoid a potentially large issue after your project is complete.

Just A Thought.