Justice Department Obtains Settlement of Case Alleging Disability-Based Discrimination at Ashlynn Estates in Ellensburg, Washington
Spokane – Today, near the 50th Anniversary of the enactment of the Fair Housing Act, Joseph H. Harrington, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced settlement of 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. The settlement resolves allegations that Keith and Tamra Riexinger, and Riexinger Enterprises, Inc., also known as Crossroads Construction, 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 FHA’s accessible design and construction provisions require new multi-family housing constructed after March 1991—including dormitory style housing—to have basic features accessible to persons with disabilities. Under the settlement, the Riexingers and their company will retrofit the properties to make the 12 ground floor units and common areas accessible to persons with disabilities; pay $10,000 to the NWFHA; train new employees on the FHA; and adopt a nondiscrimination policy.
According to court records, the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged that the Riexingers and their company violated the FHA because they designed and constructed Ashlynn Estates with various barriers inhibiting access to the 12 ground-floor units and the associated public and common-use areas, including: inaccessible entrances, parking, bathrooms, walk-in closets, electrical outlets, and doorknob hardware.
The lawsuit arose from an initial 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 inWashington. NWFHA inspected the Ashlynn Estates and observed accessibility barriers. After investigating, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department, which filed the instant federal civil rights lawsuit against the Riexingers and their company.
Joseph H. Harrington said, “The Fair Housing Act was originally enacted in April of 1968 following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and prohibits discrimination based on any statutorily-protected basis, including disability. 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. It is also a reminder that even now, near the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and during Fair Housing Month, we are committed to eliminating housing discrimination and creating equal opportunity in every community.”
“The Department is committed to ensuring that new multi-family 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.”
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.
The settlement was negotiated by Joseph P. Derrig, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, and U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Trial Attorney, Noah D. Sacks. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.