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CUOMO ANNOUNCES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION SETTLEMENT INVOLVING ACCESSIBILITY FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN GEORGIA
WASHINGTON - Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced the successful settlement of a housing discrimination complaint alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act by the owner of newly constructed apartments in Tucker, GA.
The settlement is part of a crackdown on housing discrimination launched by HUD at the direction of President Clinton in September.
The discrimination complaint alleged that features of the new apartment complex, called Bentley Place Apartments, were not in compliance with the accessibility guidelines of the Fair Housing Act and could not be used by people with disabilities.
Under the terms of the settlement, Charlie Roberts, owner and builder of Bentley Place, will retro-fit the apartment complex and bring it into full compliance with the accessibility guidelines of the act. In addition, Roberts will pay $4,000 in damages to Metro Fair Housing Services of Atlanta, a private non-profit housing advocacy group that filed the complaint.
"People with disabilities have the right to live where they choose," Cuomo said. "There is no acceptable reason for newly constructed apartments to be unusable by people with disabilities. It's unfair, it's illegal, and this Department won't tolerate it."
"Builders like Charlie Roberts set a positive example by stepping up to the plate and agreeing to correct problem areas in their buildings," Cuomo said.
Roberts, who has been building in Atlanta for 25 years, called the process of learning about and settling the complaint "educational."
"It is the law of the land and it is a reasonable law," Roberts said. "An education process needs to take place between architects, contractors and subcontractors. We all need to be more aware of the new way of doing things."
The Bentley Place development is located at 215 Bentley Place. The complex includes five buildings containing 117 apartments and a fitness center, swimming pool and laundry facilities.
Bentley Place was identified by Metro Fair Housing Services as having design features that would make the apartments inaccessible to people with disabilities. Problem areas cited included interior and exterior doors that were too heavy to be opened by people with disabilities, first floor apartment units that had no accessible entry way, mailboxes that disabled tenants would not have been able to reach and dumpsters that disabled people could not use.
Under the Fair Housing Act, all dwellings built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, must be accessible to people with disabilities. The law covers all buildings having four or more units regardless of whether they are multi-family or single-family, privately-owned or publicly funded.
In particular, all units in elevator-serviced buildings and all ground floor units in buildings without elevators must include accessible entrances, usable doors, accessible routes into and through units, and accessible public and common-use areas such as community rooms, rental offices, recreation areas and dining halls. In addition, every dwelling must include accessible light switches and environmental controls, reinforced walls for grab bars, and usable kitchens and bathrooms.
The settlement of the Bentley Place complaint follows a similar agreement reached in July involving the St. Andrews Apartments. The complaint filed against St. Andrews -- a 25-building development with 228 units -- alleged that St. Andrews included: 100 inaccessible ground floor units; inaccessible routes to buildings, public and common use areas; and thermostats and bathrooms that were inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs.
The St. Andrews agreement also provided for retro-fitting and making modifications to the units and making the public and common use areas accessible. It awarded $10,000 in relief to the complainants.
In addition to establishing minimum accessibility standards for multi-family housing, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the account of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin.
The Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.
People who believe they have been harmed by a violation of the Act can file complaints with HUD. HUD operates a toll-free national hotline to take complaints, in both English and Spanish, at 1-800-669-9777. If an investigation shows that illegal housing practices have occurred and the parties will not settle, the Department issues charges and the case goes to trial, either before a HUD administrative law judge, or in Federal District Court.
A finding by an administrative law judge that the Fair Housing Act has been violated carries a top penalty of $11,000 in civil penalties for the first offense and $55,000 for later offenses; monetary compensation to victims for actual damages, humiliation, mental distress, and loss of their fair housing rights; and attorney fees and court costs. A finding by a federal court of a violation may include an assessment of punitive damages, as well as compensation for victims.
During President Clinton's first term, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reached out-of-court settlements, such as the one announced today, in 6,517 housing discrimination cases. The Department took enforcement actions -- either issuing housing discrimination charges or referring the cases to the Department of Justice for enforcement -- in 1,085 cases. HUD obtained $17.8 million in compensation for housing discrimination victims during the President's first term.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009