Department of Justice Seal



MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2000

(202) 514-2007


TDD (202) 514-1888



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An Oak Creek, Wisconsin developer was sued today for failing to provide accessible housing for people with disabilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department announced.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, alleges that developers/owners Roberts Construction Company, Robert Fransway and Peter Fransway, as well as the architect, the Shepherd Partnership, did not design or construct 176 apartments at Springbrook Cercle Apartments in compliance with federal law.

The accessibility requirements contained in the Fair Housing Act apply to all units built for first occupancy after March 1991 that are located either in a multifamily building with an elevator or on the ground floor in buildings without elevators. In those covered units, all doors must be wide enough for wheelchairs, there must be accessible routes throughout the unit, light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats must be reachable from wheelchairs, bathroom walls must be reinforced so grab bars can be installed, and there must be sufficient space in kitchens and bathrooms for people in wheelchairs to maneuver.

"The impact of compliance with these modest requirements on persons with disabilities who are seeking housing is significant," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "In many cases, it is the difference between being able to reside in a particular housing unit or not."

The complaint alleges that the developers/owners and architect violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to include certain features which would make the common areas and the individual apartments accessible. For example, portions of Springbrook Cercle's clubhouse are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Apartments have steps at the front doors and some doors that are too narrow for passage by a wheelchair. Electrical outlets are too low and light switches are too high to be reached by a person using a wheelchair. Kitchens and bathrooms are too small for a person in a wheelchair to use them.

To ensure that architects, developers, and builders understand the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements for accessibility, the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have provided information and technical guidance to these businesses, hoping to increase compliance. Yet, despite this and although the accessibility requirements became mandatory for new construction in 1991, multifamily housing developments continue to be in violation of the law. Consequently, persons with disabilities continue to be denied equal housing opportunities.

"We hope that our education and outreach efforts will encourage all those involved in the construction of multifamily homes to be aware of and to comply with the Fair Housing Act," said Lee. "However, the law is clear, and so is the violation. Where federal law is not observed, we will continue to promote accessibility through the courts."