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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination by West Virginia Developers

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit yesterday against West Virginia-based developer Biafora’s Incorporated (Biafora) and several affiliated companies, for violating the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated these laws when they designed and constructed twenty-three residential properties with barriers that make them inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

“For over two decades, the Fair Housing Act and ADA have required those who design and build multifamily housing complexes to make them accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division.  “Residential complexes built with steps but without ramps or other means of access deny Americans with disabilities the basic right to equal housing opportunities.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to working together with the Civil Rights Division to ensure that the rights of citizens with disabilities in the Northern District of West Virginia are fully protected,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld for the Northern District of West Virginia.  “It’s important that building developers in our district design and construct housing units which comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, West Virginia, alleges that twenty-three properties located in Monongalia County, Harrison County, and Marion County, West Virginia, as well as in Greene County, Pennsylvania, have significant barriers, including steps leading to building entrances, non-existent or excessively sloped pedestrian routes from apartment units to site amenities (e.g., picnic areas, dumpsters, clubhouse/leasing offices), insufficient maneuvering space in bathrooms and kitchens, excessively high light switches and temperature controls and inaccessible parking. 

The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to bring properties they have designed and constructed since 1991 into compliance with the Fair Housing Act and the ADA, as well as monetary damages for persons harmed by the lack of accessibility and civil penalties to the United States.  The suit also names Biafora’s affiliates Falconcrest LLC, Five Star Holdings LLC, Metro Rentals LLC, Metro Rentals II LLC, RDR Properties LLC, RDR Properties II LLC, The Gables LLC, The Woodlands LLC, 3BT LLC and CMC Company LLC.  Anyone with information about the inaccessible conditions at these properties should call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, and follow the prompts to enter mailbox 998.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.  Among other things, the Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units, and units accessible to wheelchair users and others with disabilities.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.

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

Updated August 28, 2015