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CUOMO ANNOUNCES $110,000 SETTLEMENT OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT INVOLVING DISABLED WOMAN
WASHINGTON – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced a $110,000 settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit filed by a disabled Alabama woman who said she suffered because her landlord refused to move her to an apartment that was wheelchair-accessible.
The woman, who has asked not to be publicly identified, said she has been unable to enter the only bathroom of her apartment in Jemison, AL, since moving into the apartment in April, 1995 because her wheelchair will not fit through the door. As a result, the woman has been dependent on her two teenage daughters to help her meet her personal hygiene needs outside the bathroom.
In addition, the woman said the lack of a ramp leading to her apartment makes it impossible for her to reach the sidewalk outside the apartment, due to the presence of a steep step. Because of this, she said she has to roll her wheelchair over a dirt and grass incline to reach the parking lot. She said on several occasions her wheelchair has tipped over and in some instances she has had to wait for someone to find her and help her.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on account of disability, race, color, religion, sex, family status and national origin. The Act requires that most apartment complexes and condominiums opened after March 13, 1991, be built so that all apartments on the ground floor are wheelchair-accessible, along with apartments on upper floors where there are elevators. The Alabama apartment complex where the woman lives opened after the accessibility requirements went into effect.
"Because of the existence of the Fair Housing Act, people victimized by housing discrimination can fight back," Cuomo said. "We have zero tolerance for this type of discrimination and we are working to stop it across the nation."
The negotiated settlement requires the payment of the $110,000 by apartment project owner Caton Properties Inc., of Jemison, AL and by the builder, Parker, Prescott & Payton Builders, Inc., of Montgomery, AL.
Under the settlement, the two companies agreed to pay the woman and her daughters $50,000. They also agreed in the settlement to remodel more apartment units, at an estimated cost of $60,000, to make them accessible to wheelchair residents.
The woman will use the settlement to help her buy a home so she can move out of the apartment complex.
The woman said when she first rented the apartment she was promised by the landlord that a ramp would be built for her and that she would be transferred to one of the only two apartments in the 24-unit complex that were wheelchair accessible. However, the woman said that when families in the accessible apartments moved out, she was denied a transfer, and instead able-bodied people moved in.
The woman contacted the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center (CAFHC) in Montgomery in August of 1996 to complain that no ramp was ever built and no transfer ever permitted. The woman and her family, along with the Fair Housing Center, filed a federal lawsuit later that month. The settlement announced today resolves the lawsuit.
The Fair Housing Center is partially funded by HUD through a Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant.
Faith Cooper, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center, said she was pleased with the settlement. "It is crucial that Alabama apartment owners and builders understand that disabled tenants have the same rights as other tenants, and that builders know they are required by law to construct barrier-free apartments," she said.
HUD began a nationwide crackdown on housing discrimination in September, at President Clinton’s direction.
President Clinton’s proposed 1999 Federal Budget seeks a $22 million budget increase for HUD to intensify the fight against housing discrimination. The 73 percent increase for HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity would boost spending by the office to $52 million.
HUD operates a toll-free national hotline to take housing discrimination complaints, in both English and Spanish, at 1-800-669-9777.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009