On September 26, 2022, the United States filed a pattern or practice complaint in United States v. LJLD, LLC (Bridgewater), et al. (E.D. Mo). The complaint alleges that the defendant(s) discriminated on the basis of disability by designing and constructing a multifamily apartment complex without the accessible and adaptable features required by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Westminster Properties, LLC is also named as a defendant in the case. The case was referred to the Division after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a complaint filed by the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, conducted an investigation, and issued a charge of discrimination.
Press Release (9/26/22)
Case Open Date: Monday, September 26, 2022
Case Name: United States v. LJLD, LLC (Bridgewater), et al.
Tags: LJLD; Debrecht Properties; Westminster Properties; Fordyce Manor; Fair Housing Act; FHA; Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act; ADA Standards for Accessible Design; design and construct; public accommodation
Industry Code: None
Component: Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights – Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Case Documents: Complaint – United States v. LJLD, LLC (Bridgewater), et al. (E.D. Mo)
The law requires that any multifamily dwelling units constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, must meet the accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act. (Dwelling units are covered by FHA accessibility requirements if they are located in buildings with 4 or more ground-level or elevator-accessible units.) Any entity involved in the design or construction of the property can be held liable for violations, including the property owner.
The Department of Justice alleges that the property in question, which was constructed in 2016, does not meet the FHA accessibility requirements related to an accessible route throughout the community as well as through the covered units, accessible amenities and leasing office, ramp slopes, environmental controls in the units, clear floor space in the unit bathrooms, door hardware, door size within units, and accessible parking. This action began after a local fair housing agency saw ads for the new property, reviewed construction plans, and then conducted an on-site inspection. The agency filed a complaint with HUD, who conducted an investigation and issued a Charge of Discrimination.
Accessibility violations that may be visible from the exterior of the property are typically not difficult to identify if someone knows what to look for. Once exterior violations are identified, HUD, other enforcement agencies, or even a private plaintiff, can request inspections or plans for the interior areas. If violations are truly present, these cases are difficult to defend, and most result in costly settlements and remediation of the property.
When developing a new property, it is highly recommended that the plans are reviewed by an accessibility consultant who would ideally be involved throughout the construction process. Being proactive about compliance on the front end ultimately saves a huge amount of time and money and avoids the potential for a suit like this one. Even if you settle early before litigation, correcting the existing violations is always going to be the end result, which will be costly and burdensome to the owner, management, and the tenants.