WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced a settlement agreement with a developer and several architectural firms in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Nebraska, resolving two lawsuits that alleged disability related housing discrimination. Under the agreement, the developer and architectural firms have agreed to retrofit 49 apartment complexes and pay $1,060,000.
"Following today's agreement, the Justice Department will have facilitated - in 2005 alone - the availability of more than 10,000 newly-accessible housing units to persons with disabilities," said Bradley J. Schlozman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "While it is less expensive to make housing accessible in the first place, we are pleased with the defendants' cooperation with the government to reach this agreement, which retrofits nearly 50 apartment complexes."
After conducting an initial investigation, the Justice Department filed suit in 2001 in South Bend, Indiana and later filed a related suit in Detroit, Michigan in 2002. The government's complaints alleged that the defendants discriminated against persons with disabilities in the design and construction of the complexes, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuits also alleged that the rental offices at a number of the properties were designed and constructed in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination in public accommodations, including rental offices. Today's agreement resolves both lawsuits.
Under the settlement agreement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the defendants will: retrofit 5,400 ground-floor apartments to make them more accessible; pay up to $950,000 to individuals harmed by the lack of accessible features at the properties; and pay a $110,000 civil penalty. The defendants include the developers of the complexes - Edward Rose & Associates and affiliated companies - and the architects - Dorchen/Martin Associates, Inc.; Eckert/Wordell Architects P.C.; Alexander V. Bogaerts & Associates P.C.; SSOE, Inc.; and architects Gerald Peterson and James R. Saule - who designed the complexes.
"This agreement underscores how federal law ensures that housing must be made available on a non-discriminatory basis to all people, including those with disabilities. We hope that this settlement encourages the housing industry in my district to comply with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act," said Stephen J. Murphy, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
"I join the comments of Bradley Schlozman and Stephan Murphy. It is important that housing be accessible to all, particularly our citizens with disabilities. This settlement shows our commitment to enforcement of the Fair Housing Act," stated Joseph S. Van Bokkelen, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana.
Through the President's New Freedom Initiative, the Civil Rights Division is committed to providing greater access for Americans with disabilities. Since January 20, 2001, the Division has filed 174 lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act, including 36 based on the Act's design and construction provisions.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (having children under age 18). Persons who believe they may have been harmed by the lack of accessible housing at one of the apartment complexes involved in this matter should contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743. Persons who believe they have been victims of unlawful housing discrimination elsewhere should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743 or 202-514-4713. Additional information is available at www.hud.gov and www.usdoj.gov/crt/crt-home.html.