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The Justice Department announced today that an Ohio developer and a franchisor of multifamily properties have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by designing and constructing 32 multifamily properties in Ohio that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
“For more than a quarter century, federal law has required multifamily housing complexes to be built with accessible features,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit is part of the Department of Justice’s continuing efforts to ensure that those who actively participate in the development of multifamily housing fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that the properties are accessible for persons with disabilities as required by the Fair Housing Act.”
“The purpose of the Fair Housing Act is to advance equal opportunity in housing and end discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney David DeViller for the Southern District of Ohio. “This office is committed to vigorously enforcing the Act. Developers in the Southern District of Ohio will either live up to their obligations under the law, or we will go to court to require that they do so.”
Today’s settlement, pending court approval, resolves a lawsuit the Department filed in October 2019 in the Southern District of Ohio. It alleges that Ohio developer Epcon Communities, LLP and its related entity, Epcon Communities Franchising, Inc., violated the FHA when they designed and constructed the 32 condominium properties in Ohio with steps and other features that made them inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
This matter originated with a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Fair Housing Advocates Association, a fair housing organization in Akron, Ohio. HUD then initiated its own complaint and, after completing an investigation, determined that the Defendants had violated the FHA and referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
“When architects and developers fail to design and construct housing consistent with Fair Housing Act requirements, it’s the same as the property having a sign that reads, ‘no wheelchairs allowed,’” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action to ensure that persons with disabilities, some of our most vulnerable citizens, have the type of housing that meets their needs.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Epcon Communities, Inc. and Epcon Communities Franchising, Inc. must pay up to $2,200,000 to correct inaccessible features in the common areas of the properties and within the individual units. The corrections that defendants must make to the common areas include: removing steps; replacing steeply-sloped walkways; adding accessible routes from units to amenities such as the clubhouse and swimming pool; and providing accessible parking. The defendants must also offer to pay current owners to correct certain inaccessible features within condominium units, including those found in bathrooms and kitchens. Additionally, they must establish a $300,000 settlement fund for people who suffered harm due to the lack of accessible features at the 32 Ohio properties, pay a civil penalty of $51,303 to the United States, and ensure that any future housing they design or construct complies with the FHA. Defendants also must pay $40,000 in damages to the Fair Housing Advocates Association, which filed the discrimination complaint with HUD that initiated this case.
Persons who lived at or sought to live at one of the properties listed below who were denied housing or otherwise harmed because the complex was not accessible may be entitled to monetary compensation through today’s settlement. Such persons can contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743 mailbox #994 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The properties at issue are:
The 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 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 have been victims of housing discrimination may call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint.