Discrimination In Housing Against Persons With Disabilities -- Accessibility Features For New Construction

The Fair Housing Act defines discrimination in housing against persons with disabilities to include a failure "to design and construct" certain new multi-family dwellings so that they are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, and particularly people who use wheelchairs. The Act requires all newly constructed multi-family dwellings of four or more units intended for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, to have certain features: an accessible entrance on an accessible route, accessible common and public use areas, doors sufficiently wide to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible routes into and through each dwelling, light switches, electrical outlets, and thermostats in accessible location, reinforcements in bathroom walls to accommodate grab bar installations, and usable kitchens and bathrooms configured so that a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.

Developers, builders, owners, and architects responsible for the design or construction of new multi-family housing may be held liable under the Fair Housing Act if their buildings fail to meet these design requirements. The Department of Justice has brought many enforcement actions against those who failed to do so. Most of the cases have been resolved by consent decrees providing a variety of types of relief including: retrofitting to bring inaccessible features into compliance where feasible and where it is not -- alternatives (monetary funds or other construction requirements) that will provide for making other housing units accessible; training on the accessibility requirements for those involved in the construction process; a mandate that all new housing projects comply with the accessibility requirements, and monetary relief for those injured by the violations. >

Updated August 6, 2015

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