Justice Department Settles Disability-Based Housing Discrimination Lawsuit with Ohio Developer and Architect
The Justice Department announced today that Dean Windham and Milton Studer, a real estate developer and an architect in Ohio, as well as several companies that they owned and controlled, have agreed to pay a total of $160,000 to resolve allegations that they violated the Fair Housing Act by designing and constructing two neighboring condominium complexes in Hartville, Ohio, with a variety of features that made them inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Under the terms of the agreement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the defendants will pay $100,000 to current condominium owners at Windham Bridge Condominiums and Hampton Court Condominiums who choose to make accessibility modifications to their units. These modifications include eliminating steps and excessive slopes in the walkways to the front entrances of their units; widening doorways; removing or lowering thresholds; installing removable cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms to increase maneuvering space for wheelchair use and relocating toilets, showers and sinks to provide access to a wheelchair user.
“This settlement makes clear that those who design and build multifamily housing must comply with the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to protect the rights of people with disabilities to live in their communities without facing barriers like inaccessible housing.”
“Accessible housing benefits the entire community,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon of the Northern District of Ohio. “It provides living options for people with mobility impairments, and helps ensure that our older residents can stay in their homes as long as possible. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the laws which protect this important right.”
Under the agreement, the defendants will also pay $10,000 to the Tri-County Center for Independent Living and $10,000 to the Fair Housing Advocates Association, two fair housing community organizations that expended resources in connection with this matter, as well as a $40,000 civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The lawsuit arose out of complaints that Tri-County Center for Independent Living and the Fair Housing Advocates Association originally filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After investigating the complaints, HUD determined that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“One out of five persons in America lives with some type of physical disability, making it more important than ever that architects and builders comply with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s settlement reaffirms HUD and the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that housing providers meet that obligation.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743 or e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. Such persons may also contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.
Fair housing enforcement is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt.