FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
CHICAGO AREA DEVELOPER AGREES TO PAY $100,000 TO SETTLE HOUSING
DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT BY JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department announced today that the developers of Hunt Club Condominiums, an 86-unit, two building development in St. Charles, Illinois, have agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit charging them with failing to construct accessible housing, as required by the federal Fair Housing Act.
As part of the agreement, which must still be approved by the court, the developers will modify certain common areas of the complex to make it more accessible to persons with disabilities and will pay $95,000 into a fund which will be used to pay for accessibility modifications by individual owners. The developers will also pay a $5,000 civil penalty and take steps to ensure that future construction by them complies with the Fair Housing Act.
"As the number of our elderly citizens increases, the need for housing built with the accessibility features required by the Fair Housing Act becomes more pronounced. Builders, architects and engineers must understand that failing to make apartments and condominiums accessible discriminates against persons with disabilities and violates the law," said Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "It is far easier and less costly to build housing right from the start than to go back and fix it later."
The original complaint, filed in January of 2001 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that Richard Lettvin, RSC Development Group, Inc. RSC/Hunt Club, LLC, LP Construction Co., and RSC Renaissance Limited Partnership violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to include certain features at Hunt Club that would make the complex accessible to persons with disabilities.
The complaint alleges that, as originally designed and constructed, interior doors throughout units in the first building at Hunt Club were too narrow to be used by persons who use wheelchairs, bathrooms were not readily usable by such persons and lacked reinforced walls for the later installation of grab bars, and common use and public areas in one of the buildings were also not readily accessible to and usable by such persons. The suit also alleged that the second building at Hunt Club failed to include an accessible route into and out of the dwelling units.
Under the Fair Housing Act, new apartment complexes and condominiums with four or more units, must include accessible common amenities such as parking, walkways, pools, and clubhouses. The Act also requires that the ground-floor units in new multifamily housing without elevators include accessible routes into and through the dwelling, doors that are wide enough to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, bathroom walls that have reinforcements for the installation of grab bars, bathrooms and kitchens that are large enough for people who use wheelchairs to maneuver within them, and environmental controls and electrical outlets at accessible heights. In buildings with elevators, all of the units must have these accessibility features.
"Congress sought to change the multifamily housing stock by requiring that dwelling units be designed and built so they are usable by persons with disabilities," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. "We must and will enforce this important law."
The case grew out of a series of audits of construction sites in Chicago area residential developments. The audits, which were performed in partnership with the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic and Access Living, a Chicago-based disability rights organization, consisted of "testers," some of whom were persons with disabilities, who posed as prospective home buyers and who inspected properties to see if they met accessibility requirements. Under a program established in 1991, the Department of Justice frequently uses testers to uncover unlawful housing discrimination.
Persons who believe that their apartment complex or condominium development was not designed or constructed in accordance with the Fair Housing Act, or who believe that they have been otherwise discriminated against on the basis of disability, may contact the Department of Justice at 1-800-896-7743 or 202-514-4713, or the Department of Housing of Urban Development (HUD) at 1-800-669-9777 or at www.hud.gov/fhe. Additional information about the accessibility requirements of the Act is available on HUD's website at www.hud.gov/fhe/fheacss.html.