Justice Department Files Suit Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination at Housing Complex in Ellensburg, Washington
The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the owners, builder and designer of the Ashlynn Estates in Ellensburg, Washington, alleging that the property was designed and constructed without complying with the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) accessibility requirements. Situated near Central Washington University, each of the three buildings on the property have nine individually keyed units with their own bathroom and desk as well as a shared living space, a communal kitchen and two communal laundry rooms.
“When constructing new multifamily housing, including dormitory style residences like Ashlynn Estates, builders must make these facilities accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Building multifamily housing that is not accessible denies people with disabilities their legal right to equal housing opportunity.”
“The Fair Housing Act was originally enacted in 1968 and was amended in 1988 to prohibit discrimination on any protected basis, including disability,” said U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby of the Eastern District of Washington. “This statute and other legislation guarantees safe and reasonable access for persons with disabilities to ensure full participation in all aspects of life, including housing. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, HUD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office take serious allegations of disability-based discrimination through access violations and we join our colleagues in seeking enforcement of those rights guaranteed by this historic legislation.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, alleges that various barriers at the Ashlynn Estates deny persons with disabilities equal access to 12 ground-floor units and the associated public and common-use areas at the property that are covered by the FHA. Such barriers include: inaccessible building entrances on an inaccessible exterior route; inaccessible knob hardware throughout the buildings, including on the building entrances and unit entrances; inaccessible electrical outlets; inaccessible laundry facilities; inaccessible bathrooms and inaccessible walk-in closet entrances.
The lawsuit arises from a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance (NWFHA), a private, nonprofit corporation whose mission is to provide education regarding fair housing laws and to ensure compliance with those laws in Washington. NWFHA inspected the Ashlynn Estates and observed accessibility barriers. After conducting an investigation, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department.
“The Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements are clear,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Not complying not only violates the law, it also reduces the availability of the type of housing persons with disabilities depend on. HUD applauds the action the Justice Department took today, and we look forward to continuing to work together to send a clear message to property owners and developers that they will be held accountable for not meeting their legal obligations.”
The suit names the owners of the property, Keith and Tamra Riexinger, and Riexinger Enterprises Inc., also known as Crossroads Construction, the firm that designed and constructed the property. The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to retrofit the Ashlynn Estates property to bring it into compliance with the FHA, as well as monetary damages for NWFHA and for persons harmed by the lack of accessibility at the complex.
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability. 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. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.