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Friday, April 13, 2018

Justice Department Obtains Settlement of Case Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination in Housing in Ellensburg, Washington

The Justice Department announced today that it has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the owners, builder, and designer of the Ashlynn Estates, a three-building dormitory-style property near Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Keith and Tamra Riexinger own the property, and Riexinger Enterprises Inc. (also known as Crossroads Construction) designed and built it. The settlement resolves allegations that the defendants failed to design and construct the buildings to make them accessible to persons with disabilities in compliance with the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) accessibility requirements. 

“The Department is committed to ensuring that new multifamily housing—including housing designed for students—is accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit and its resolution are just the latest steps in the Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure equal accessibility for persons with disabilities.”   

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on any statutorily-protected basis, including disability,” said U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Harrington for the Eastern District of Washington. “The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, HUD, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to vigorously pursuing enforcement of the rights guaranteed by the Act. This settlement is an example of that commitment in the Eastern District of Washington and serves to promote equal access to multi-family housing for persons with disabilities.”

“Housing units that don’t meet the needs of persons of disabilities make it impossible for them to enjoy their homes,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Providers that built housing after March 1991 have an obligation to construct units that are accessible to persons with disabilities, and HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to ensure that they meet that obligation.”

The FHA’s accessible design and construction provisions require new multifamily housing constructed after March 1991—including dormitory-style housing—to have basic features accessible to persons with disabilities.  According to the allegations in the complaint, the defendants designed and constructed Ashlynn Estates with various barriers inhibiting access to the 12 ground-floor units and the associated public and common-use areas at the property.  Those barriers include: inaccessible building entrances; inaccessible routes to the buildings; inaccessible parking, bathrooms, closets and electrical outlets; and door knobs throughout the buildings that make entrances inaccessible to many people with disabilities.   

The lawsuit arises from a complaint filed with the 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.

Under the settlement, defendants will retrofit the properties to make the 12 ground floor units and common areas accessible, pay $10,000 to the NWFHA, train new employees on the FHA, and adopt a nondiscrimination policy. 

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.  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 Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

Updated April 13, 2018