More MS news articles for April 2000

22nd Chicago Builder Hit with Accessibility Lawsuit

The U.S. Attorney's office for Northern Illinois has filed another lawsuit against a Chicago area developer, contending it failed to comply with the Fair Housing Act's accessibility guidelines in the construction of a condominium complex in a nearby suburb.

It was the 22nd time in the past two years that the Justice Department has gone to court against a Chicago builder for constructing condos that are not accessible to disabled Americans.

Legal experts have mixed opinions about whether real estate agents have some liability in the cases, with some arguing that the law only applies to those who design and build the complexes, but others suggesting that agents who turn away qualified buyers because of a disability could run afoul discrimination laws.

The latest lawsuit was filed against the Bigelow Group, which built a 286-unit residential complex in North Aurora, Ill. The Justice Department says the Summer Wind Condominiums violate federal law on several grounds:

The accessibility guidelines of the Fair Housing Act apply to all units built for occupancy after March 1991 that are located in a multi-family building with an elevator, and are located on the ground floor in buildings without elevators.

The law states that in those units all doors must be wide enough for wheelchairs, there must be accessible routes throughout the unit, light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats must be reachable from wheelchairs, bathroom walls must be reinforced so grab bars can be installed, and there must be sufficient space in kitchens and bathrooms for people in wheelchairs to maneuver.

The complaint alleges that The Bigelow Group violated the Fair Housing Act by not including certain features that would make the common areas and the individual units accessible. Specifically, there are non-compliant ramps and excessive slopes in the public areas, as well as steps leading to some of the units, some doors are too narrow for the passage of wheelchairs, and the kitchens and bathrooms are not readily usable by persons who use wheelchairs.

According to Access Living, a disability rights participating in the lawsuit, the investigation of the Summer Wind condos consisted of sending out disabled and non-disabled people who posed as potential buyers or renters.

The tests were performed in partnership with the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic.

Although the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to include discrimination against people with disabilities, and a compliance deadline of 1991 was set, many builders complain HUD did not established building guidelines until 1995.

For lack of HUD guidelines, many builders say, they used the less-stringent rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as their construction standard.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Lee, however, says the lack of HUD guidelines is not an excuse. "The law is clear, and so is the violation," Lee said.

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Source: Realty Times

(This story was posted on 18 Apr 2000)