At the end of last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
announced that it had reached a settlement of a new lawsuit with
the builders and developers of 31 apartment buildings in Helena, MT
in which the DOJ asserted that the projects were constructed in
violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) as they were not accessible
to individuals with disabilities.
In the complaint, DOJ alleged that 64 ground floor units were
built with steps to entrances, inaccessible bathrooms and kitchens
as well as with other features that made them inaccessible to
individuals with disabilities. Pursuant to the terms of a
settlement agreement (which still must be approved by a federal
judge), the defendants must complete various corrective actions to
ensure accessibility to those with disabilities (including
wheelchairs). The terms DOJ required include: (a) creating
accessible routes to ground floor apartment entrances, parking,
mailboxes and other common areas; (b) making interior modifications
such as moving fixtures and/or electrical outlets to make them
accessible to people with disabilities; (c) constructing new
multifamily housing with enhanced accessibility features; and (d)
paying $20,000 to establish a settlement fund for the purpose of
compensating individuals with disabilities who have been harmed by
the accessibility violations.
The takeaway? The FHA contains various "design and
construction" requirements (including specific safe harbor
provisions) that architects, builders, developers, and owners must
be familiar with prior to undertaking new multifamily housing
construction. These "design and construction" standards
have been a part of the law for many years now. They need to be
followed or those who don't may really need to speak with a
lawyer like me if the DOJ (or a local fair housing advocacy group)
knocks on your door.
Just A Thought.
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