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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination in Housing in Galveston, Texas

The Justice Department today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against TFT Galveston Portfolio LTD (Galveston Portfolio), the owners of the Seasons Resort, an apartment complex located in Galveston, Texas, as well as against James W. Gartrell Jr., a licensed engineer whose primary place of business is Texas City, Texas. The lawsuit alleges that defendants Galveston Portfolio and Gartrell failed to design and construct an eight-building addition and associated rental office at the Seasons Resort to make them accessible to persons with disabilities in compliance with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) accessibility requirements and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The Department of Justice is committed to eliminating disability-based discrimination in housing,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit is the latest step in the Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure equal accessibility for persons with disabilities, including making multifamily housing FHA compliant.”   

“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to working with the Civil Rights Division in enforcing the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. “We are fully devoted to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the Southern District of Texas.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Galveston, Texas, alleges that the eight-building addition and rental office designed and built by the defendants have significant accessibility barriers that inhibit access to the 24 ground-floor units and the associated public and common-use areas at the property.  Those barriers include: multiple steps on walkways throughout the property; multiple steps leading to ground-floor unit entrances; barriers at property amenities such as the mail centers, the pool, the rent drop box at the rental office, and the trash dumpster; inaccessible parking, bathrooms, kitchens, thermostats and electrical outlets; and door knobs at all unit entrances that make those entrances inaccessible to many people with disabilities.

The lawsuit arises from a complaint by a former tenant with physical disabilities who was compelled to move from the property because she could not get from her apartment to the parking area unassisted.

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting the defendants from designing or constructing future residential properties in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring the defendants to bring the portions of the Seasons Resort that they have designed and constructed since 1991 into compliance with the FHA and the ADA, as well as monetary damages for persons harmed by the lack of accessibility. 

The Justice Department, through the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Civil Rights Division, enforces the FHA, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.  Among other things, the FHA requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 12, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground-floor units.  The full and fair enforcement of the ADA and its mandate to integrate individuals with disabilities is a major priority of the Civil Rights Division. The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public accommodations, including the rental office at issue in this case.    

More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777, or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct.  The allegations in the complaint must still be proven in court.

Updated February 22, 2019