Justice Department Settles Accessibility Case with Major Developer

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio announced on July 28, 2020, that the owners, developers, and builders of 82 multi-family housing complexes have agreed to make extensive modifications to their properties and pay $475,000 to resolve claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by designing and constructing apartment complexes that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

This agreement in the case of the United States of America v. Miller-Valentine Operations, et al resolves one of the largest housing accessibility lawsuits the DOJ has ever filed. The housing complexes at issue are located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia, and contain more than 3,000 units that are required to have accessible features.

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants must take extensive corrective actions to make the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities. These include replacing excessively sloped sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb ramps, providing sufficient room for wheelchair users in bathrooms and kitchens, and removing accessibility barriers in public and common use areas.

The settlement also requires the defendants to receive Fair Housing and ADA training, to take steps to ensure that their future developments comply with the laws, and to provide periodic reports to the DOJ.

Many of the complexes were built under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

The case indicates the importance of adhering to federal requirements relative to the design of apartment communities in so far as the requirements relate to accessibility. All owners should review the design of their properties to ensure compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. These requirements apply to covered housing that was built for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991.