HUD No. 06-133
October 5, 2006
HUD ORDERS OWNERS OF MONTANA APARTMENT BUILDING TO MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE
Secretary overturns original decision; requires landlords/owners to pay damages.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that the Secretary reversed a decision by a HUD administrative law judge (ALJ) dismissing a Fair Housing Act design and construction case in Billings, Mont. The Secretary found that Brent and Bernard Nelson violated the Fair Housing Act by designing and constructing a 12-unit, 3-story apartment building and its public and common use areas in a manner that makes it inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The Secretary remanded the case to the HUD ALJ to order the appropriate retrofits to the property and to assess monetary damages, civil penalties, and public interest and injunctive relief.
In 2003, Montana Fair Housing, Inc., identified that the property had not been designed and constructed for persons with disabilities, as required by the Fair Housing Act. In 2004, Montana Fair Housing filed a complaint with HUD. HUD's investigation revealed that the Nelsons failed to design and construct the dwelling units and common areas in accordance with the Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements for multifamily dwellings. These requirements include, among other things, that the public and common use areas be readily accessible to persons with disabilities; that doors designed to allow passage into and within the premises are sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs; and that kitchens and bathrooms be usable by persons in wheelchairs.
In his initial decision in August 2006, the HUD ALJ dismissed the case because he found that HUD had not met its burden of showing that the property violated the Act. However, upon review of the evidentiary record, the Secretary reversed that decision and found that HUD had provided objective, extensive and substantiated evidence that the design of the property violated HUD's Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines, and that the owners had not provided sufficient evidence to rebut HUD's case.
"Builders should not ignore the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements. The requirements are modest, yet they allow persons with disabilities to live independently," said Kim Kendrick, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "As the population ages, many will need accessible features in their homes and it is their right under the Fair Housing Act to have them."
FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 9,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Additional information is available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing. Stay on top of the most up-to-date news regarding the Fair Housing Act by signing up for the FHEO RSS Feed.