WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today reached a Fair Housing Act settlement with New York developers Bruce Tanski, the Bruce Tanski Construction and Development Company, Michael Dennis, and the Mountain Ledge Development Corporation. The settlement resolves the government’s demands for monetary and other relief stemming from a federal district court’s earlier ruling that these developers violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to design and construct seven Albany-area apartment complexes to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
“With this settlement, persons in wheelchairs will be able to enter the doors of their homes, reach their thermostats, and move around in their kitchens and bathrooms,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement will open up 362 more apartments to persons with disabilities.”
The government brought this suit to enforce provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act that require certain multifamily dwellings to include design features that make them more accessible to persons with physical disabilities. In 2007, the court found that the defendants violated the Act by failing to install accessible entrances, bathrooms, and kitchens; thermostats within the reach of persons in wheelchairs; and accessible pedestrian walkways at the McGregor Village Apartments, Clifton Court North Apartments, Andrea Court Apartments, Cranberry Estates, Pine Ridge II Apartments, Halfmoon Court Apartments, and Carol Jean Estates. For example, all of the ground floor units at these complexes were built with one or more steps in front of them.
The settlement, which still must be approved by the court, requires the defendants to eliminate these steps and retrofit the apartments; to retrofit public and common use areas; and to pay $155,000 in damages to persons identified by the government as having been harmed by these inaccessible features, and $20,000 in civil penalties to the government. In addition, the settlement requires the defendants to comply with federal accessibility requirements in all future construction of apartment complexes; to report to the government on any future construction projects; and to undergo training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Earlier settlements with three architect and engineer defendants in this case included an additional $18,000 for payments to victims.
The settlement also resolves the government’s claim that Michael Dennis and the Mountain Ledge Development Corporation failed to grant reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities. Under the terms of the agreement, these defendants must develop and post a reasonable accommodation policy that contains specific and objective standards and procedures for handling requests by people with disabilities for reasonable accommodations. These defendants are required to maintain records of such requests and to report them and any related complaints to the government.
The case began when a tenant of McGregor Village filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After investigating the matter, HUD issued a charge of discrimination, and the matter was referred to the Justice Department, which filed the lawsuit in June 2004.
“The Fair Housing Act requires that covered multifamily dwellings constructed for first occupancy after March 13,1991, take into consideration the needs of persons with disabilities,” said Kim Kendrick, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Stairs without ramps, doorways too narrow for wheelchairs, and environmental controls that are inaccessible, deny persons with disabilities equal access to the housing of their choice. This is unacceptable when one out of five people living in our country has a disability.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Since January 1, 2001, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 241 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 114 of which have alleged discrimination based on disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), email the Justice Department at email@example.com, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.