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Friday, February 28, 2020

Justice Department Settles Disability-Based Housing Discrimination Lawsuits with Owners and Developers of 11 Apartment Complexes in Puerto Rico

The Justice Department announced today that the owners and developers of 11 multi-family housing complexes in Puerto Rico, whose buildings include more than 650 rental units, have agreed to pay a combined $335,000 to resolve claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by building apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. As part of the settlement, the companies also agreed to make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers.

Two separate consent orders, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, resolve the government’s lawsuits filed with the court along with the consent orders against Puerto Rico-based developers Fernando L. Sumaza & Co. Inc. and Star Management Corp. and their affiliated companies. Under the terms of the settlements, the defendants must take extensive corrective actions to make the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities. These corrective actions include replacing excessively sloped portions of sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb ramps and 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, and removing accessibility barriers in public and common use areas at the complexes. The defendants will pay a combined $325,000 to establish two settlement funds for the purpose of compensating individuals with disabilities who have been impacted by the accessibility violations. A $10,000 civil penalty also will be paid to the United States.

“The Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee the rights of disabled individuals to access housing of their choice,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to aggressively enforce these laws to ensure that residential multi-family housing is built with the required accessible features.”

“Access to housing free from discrimination is a right afforded to all Americans and is crucial to the development of our communities,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the District of Puerto Rico. “This settlement is an example of our office’s continuing efforts to enforce anti-discrimination laws that protect those rights.”

The Consent Orders also require the defendants to receive training about the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that all future multifamily housing construction complies with these laws and to provide periodic reports to the Justice Department. 

The 11 complexes at issue, all of which were built with financial assistance from the federal government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program or other federal programs, are:

Fernando L. Sumaza & Co., Inc. Affiliated Properties

  • La Inmaculada Elderly, San Juan, PR
  • Marie Gardens, Cabo Rojo, PR
  • San Cristobal, San Juan, PR
  • San Fernando Elderly Center, Mayagüez, PR
  • Virgen del Pozo, Sabana Grande, PR

Star Management Corp. Affiliated Properties

  • Florida Elderly, Florida, PR
  • Isabela Elderly, Isabela, PR
  • Monserrate Elderly, PR
  • Morovis Elderly, PR
  • Patillas Elderly, Patillas, PR
  • Sunrise Elderly, San Juan, PR

Those who are entitled to share in the settlement funds will be identified through a process established in the Consent Orders. Persons who believe they may have been harmed by the inaccessible conditions at any of these properties, either when they or someone associated with them lived there or considered living there, should contact the Justice Department. For Fernando L. Sumaza & Co., Inc. affiliated properties, call toll-free at 1-800-896-7743 mailbox #9996, or e-mail at dojclaim822@usdoj.gov. For Star Management affiliated properties, call toll free at 1-800-896-7743 mailbox #3, or e-mail at dojclaim530@usdoj.gov.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. 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. Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires, among other things, that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes designed and constructed for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, be accessible to persons with disabilities. 

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 March 3, 2020