The Justice Department filed a lawsuit late yesterday against the owners, builders and designers of a 54-unit condominium complex in Hartville, Ohio, for violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated the law when they designed and constructed the complex with barriers that make it inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
“Since 1991, the Fair Housing Act has required that when new multifamily housing is built, it be accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the department’s Civil Rights Division. “When condominium complexes are built with steps and other barriers, those with disabilities are denied that equal housing opportunity.”
“We will continue to work to make sure people with disabilities are free to live where they choose, as is their legal right,” said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach for the Northern District of Ohio.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland alleges that various barriers at the Windham Bridge property in Hartville deny persons with disabilities equal access to 52 condominiums and the associated public and common-use areas at the property that are covered by the FHA. Such barriers include inaccessible building entrances; no accessible parking spaces; insufficient accessible routes into and through the units; and kitchens and bathrooms that are inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs.
The lawsuit arises from a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), a private nonprofit corporation whose mission is to provide education regarding fair housing laws and to ensure compliance with those laws in Ohio. FHAA inspected the Windham Bridge property and observed accessibility barriers. After conducting an investigation, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department.
“The Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements have been on the books for over two decades. So, today, when a person with a disability cannot enter the front door of a condominium complex, or find accessible parking there, it sends the message: 'You are not welcome here,'" said HUD's Acting Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and DOJ are committed to enforcing the nation’s fair housing laws to make certain persons with disabilities have the same access to multifamily housing as anyone else."
Named in the suit are the prior owners and builders of the property, Noble Homes Inc., Guardian Property Management Inc., Dean Windham, Hersh Construction Inc., and John Hershberger, as well as the designer of the property, Milton Studer, and his firm, Studer Architects LLC. The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to retrofit the Windham Bridge property to bring it into compliance with the FHA, as well as monetary damages for FHAA and for persons harmed by the lack of accessibility at the complex.
The federal FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability. Among other things, the Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 12, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations in the complaint must still be proven in federal court.