Major Fair Housing Settlement in Housing Accessibility Case

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has settled a major fair housing and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc., and Mid-America Apartments, LP for $11.3 million to resolve allegations that these owners failed to build 50 apartment complexes in six states and the District of Columbia in accordance with the accessibility features required by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and the ADA.

            Under the agreement, the defendants must spend $8.7 million to retrofit 36 properties that they currently own. This is in addition to $2.4 million in retrofits that had been made after the DOJ filed suit. The defendants must also pay $175,000 to compensate victims and up to $25,000 for retrofits at properties they no longer own. They must also undergo training, construct any new multifamily housing in accordance with the applicable laws, and provide periodic reports to DOJ.

            Most multifamily housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 is required to have basic accessibility features. Public spaces (e.g., parking lots and leasing offices) built for first occupancy after January 26, 1993 are required to comply with ADA accessibility features.

            Primary violations in housing developed by the defendants include:

  • Routes to building entrances had steps and excessive slopes;
  • Electrical outlets and thermostats were beyond the reach of wheelchair users; and
  • Kitchens and bathrooms had insufficient space for persons in wheelchairs to maneuver.

Owners and managers of multifamily housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 should fully understand the required design elements for these projects. These requirements apply to buildings with four or more units. In these buildings, all ground floor units must be accessible and if the building has an elevator, all units must be accessible.

There are seven basic requirements that must be met:

1. There must be at least one building entrance on an accessible route;

2. Common and public use areas must be accessible and usable;

3. Buildings must have usable doors;

4. There must be an accessible route into and through the covered apartments;

5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations in covered apartments;

6. Bathroom walls in covered apartments must be reinforces for possible installation of grab bars; and

7. Kitchens and bathrooms in covered apartments must be usable.