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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Justice Department Settles Disability-Based Housing Discrimination Lawsuit with West Virginia Developer

The Justice Department announced today that developer Biafora’s Inc. (Biafora) and several affiliated companies have agreed to pay $205,000 and make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at multifamily apartment complexes.  This agreement resolves the United States’ claims that Biafora violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by building 23 apartment complexes in West Virginia and Pennsylvania 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 West Virginia, Biafora and the other defendants must take extensive actions to make the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities, including wheelchair users.  These corrective actions include replacing excessively sloped portions of sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb walkways to allow persons with disabilities to access units from sidewalks and parking areas, replacing cabinets in bathrooms and kitchens to provide sufficient room for wheelchair users, widening doorways and reducing door threshold heights.  The settlement also requires the defendants to construct a new apartment complex in Morgantown, West Virginia, with 100 accessible units.  The defendants will pay $180,000 to establish a settlement fund for the purpose of compensating individuals with disabilities who have been impacted by the accessibility violations and $25,000 as a civil penalty.

“The Justice Department will use every means at its disposal under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure persons with disabilities can have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing of their choice,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “This comprehensive settlement will enable persons with disabilities to have equal access to housing in Morgantown and surrounding communities through the removal of accessibility barriers at existing multifamily housing properties and the creation of new accessible housing.  The agreement will also compensate persons injured by the defendants’ failure to provide accessible housing.” 

“Accessible housing is a fundamental protection afforded by the Fair Housing Act,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II of the Northern District of West Virginia.  "The U.S. Attorney's office will continue to work hard to ensure that the housing choices available to West Virginians with disabilities comply with federal laws.  If landlords in Morgantown or other parts of West Virginia fail to meet these standards then they will be held accountable."

The agreement also requires certain employees and agents of the defendants will participate in educational training about requirements of the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.  The defendants will make information about fair housing and about this settlement available to the public and will report periodically to the Justice Department.  The United States’ lawsuit also named 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.

Individuals who are entitled to share in the settlement fund will be identified through a process established in the settlement.  Notices of the settlement and a list of subject properties will be published in the Dominion Post (Morgantown) and Exponent Telegram (Clarksburg, West Virginia).  Persons who believe they were subjected to unlawful discrimination at one of those properties either when they lived there or considered living there should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743 mailbox # 998 or e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov.  Such persons may also contact the U.S. 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.

Updated August 4, 2015