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Housing Discrimination Case Costs Owners Over $10.5 Million Dollars! By Jo Becker

Posted on 01. Mar, 2013 by in all, Magazine Articles

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On June 25th, 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its largest ever disability related settlement that also included the departments largest civil penalty in any Fair Housing Act (FHA) case.  The case was one that centered on the FHA’s disability protections and design and construction requirements and was settled for a record $10.5 million dollars.

Below is an excerpt from the DOJ’s media release detailing the case. If you build, own, manage or sell (or represent someone who builds, owns, manages or sells) multifamily housing, you need to know about FHA’s design and construction requirements. Note that these requirements for properties with four or more units per building built since 1991 are separate, distinct and in addition to the Americans with Disability Act and local building code requirements.  You should know that county code enforcers and permitting offices do not enforce the FHA’s design and construction requirements; it’s simply not their purview.  To learn more, visit www.FHCO.org/dc.htm.

“WASHINGTON – the Justice Department today announced its largest-ever disability-based housing discrimination fund to resolve allegations that one construction company and six of their entities discriminated in the design and construction of multifamily complexes throughout the United States.

Under the settlement, which was approved by the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, [the company] will pay $10,250,000 into an accessibility fund to provide retrofits at all the properties it built and to increase the stock of accessible housing in the communities where these properties are located.  The settlement also required [the company] to pay a $250,000 civil penalty.  This is the largest civil penalty the Justice Department has obtained in any Fair Housing Act case.

“Today’s historic settlement demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the fair housing rights of persons with disabilities”, said the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Builders of multifamily housing must consider accessibility at the outset or they risk significantly greater expense to retrofit properties.

As a result of this settlement, multifamily housing complexes will be retrofitted to comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act and persons with physical disabilities will be afforded an equal opportunity to live in and visit these properties.”

The US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas said that equal access to housing for persons with disabilities is an important right protected by federal law and this settlement will help eliminate barriers and send a clear message that disability discrimination will not be tolerated.  Disabled residents should know that the district remains committed to protecting their fair housing rights.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 after the Justice department conducted an investigation and found accessibility barriers at various properties. Since 1991 [the construction company] and its affiliates built 210 multifamily properties in 26 states. In addition to the $10.5 million payment, the consent order prohibits [the company] from discriminating on the basis of disability in the future and interfering with or preventing the retrofitting that will take place a their properties. Although [the company] is no longer in the multifamily development and construction business, if they re-enter the business, it is required to design and construct covered multifamily dwellings to fully comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The spirit behind fair housing laws is to advance equal access to housing for all without regard to protected class status.  In this case, the protected class in question is disability.

The FHA’s design and construction have been in effect for over 20 years yet estimates indicate that a majority of covered housing is not in compliance; hence the focus agencies and organizations such as DOJ nationally as well as local Fair Housing have given to finding and resolving such violations.

This article was brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a nonprofit service of the state of Oregon and SW Washington.  Reprinted with permission of Metro, The Landlord Times.