Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development Release New Guidance on “Design and Construction” Requirements Under the Fair Housing Act
New guidance released today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Justice reinforces the Fair Housing Act requirement that multifamily housing be designed and constructed so as to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex and familial status. The Fair Housing Act also requires that multifamily housing with four or more units, built for first occupancy after March 1991, contain accessible features for persons with disabilities.
The new guidance is designed to help design professionals, developers and builders better understand their obligations and help persons with disabilities better understand their rights regarding the “design and construction” requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act.
“Everyone who is involved in designing and building multifamily housing must ensure that the required accessible features are present so that people with disabilities can use and enjoy their homes,” said Eric Halperin, Senior Counsel and Special Counsel for Fair Lending in the Civil Rights Division. “This guidance will help design professionals and builders understand their obligations under this important component of the Fair Housing Act.”
“With one of five persons in this nation having a physical disability, housing units that include the required features of accessibility are more important than ever.” stated John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). “This new guidance will assist developers in constructing housing that complies with the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements from the start and avoid having to deal with costly retrofitting later.”
HUD and the Justice Department share responsibility for enforcing the federal Fair Housing Act. HUD is the agency with the primary responsibility to investigate individual complaints of discrimination. The Secretary of HUD, on his own initiative, may also file complaints alleging discrimination. The Attorney General may commence a civil action in federal court when there is reasonable cause to believe that someone is engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination or that a group of persons has been denied rights protected by the act.
Under the act, new multifamily housing must include:
· Public and common use areas that are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; and
· Doors that are designed to allow passage into and within all premises of covered dwellings and that are sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons with disabilities, including persons who use wheelchairs.
In addition, all premises within covered dwellings must contain:
· An accessible route into and through the dwelling unit;
· Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls in accessible locations;
· Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow the later installation of grab bars;
· Usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual using a wheelchair can maneuver about and use the space.
The new guidance, issued in the form of questions and answers, supplements previously-issued guidance and answers such questions as:
· What are the design and construction requirements?
· Who must comply with the design and construction requirements?
· What types of dwellings are covered by the design and construction requirements?
· What are accessible routes?
· What is an accessible entrance?
· What is an accessible public and common use area?
· What safe harbors are available for compliance with the design and construction requirements?
Since January 2009, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partners have investigated and either conciliated or charged nearly 5,000 cases that alleged discrimination based on disability, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 141 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 19 of which have alleged discrimination based on a failure to design and construct multifamily housing in compliance with the act.
For more information about HUD and the civil rights laws it enforces, go to www.hud.gov/fairhousing and click on “Learn more about FHEO.” More information about the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt/index.php .
Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or go to HUD’s web site: www.hud.gov/fairhousing , or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch .
In addition, individuals may contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743 or by email at email@example.com .