Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Friday, January 15, 2010

LANDMARK: $7.4 Million Retrofitting Is Part of Largest Fair Housing Disability Settlement

Fair housing cases involving retrofitting come with great frustration. It's not just that the needed changes are often costly, but it's the notion that the expenses — not to mention the underlying inaccessibility problem — could have been avoided had the building's owner and architect been aware of (and taken seriously) all applicable accessibility laws.

Here's how retrofitting cases usually play out:

  1. A building constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 that was supposed to have been built in compliance with the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) design and construction requirements wasn't.

  2. Tenants with mobility impairments who live in the building struggle to enjoy their apartment living, having difficulty with basic activities such as navigating through their apartments and accessing outlets and switches.

  3. The tenants bring a fair housing complaint against the owners for violating the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination.

  4. The court finds in favor of the tenants and, in addition to assessing damages and other penalties, orders the owners to retrofit the building to get it in compliance.

On Wednesday, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and its member fair housing organizations announced a record settlement with California-based A.G. Spanos Companies ("Spanos"), the nation's fifth-largest housing developer.

Within three years, Spanos has agreed to retrofit 12,300 units in 82 buildings in 14 states — at an estimated cost of $7.4 million. The number of buildings would have been 123, but 41 Spanos-owned buildings have too many complications to undergo retrofitting. Instead, Spanos has agreed to commit $4.2 million over five years to a national accessibility fund, aimed at offering retrofitting grants for apartments across the United States.

On top of the retrofitting, Spanos has agreed to pay $1.325 million in attorneys' fees, $950,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 for the establishment of local retrofit funds, $100,000 toward a national media campaign, and $40,000 for the creation of an accessibility coalition.

The settlement is considered a record for fair housing accessibility. Click here for a full summary of the settlement, courtesy of the NFHA.

Interesting to note:

  • Spanos was reportedly "shocked" to learn that the buildings weren't built in compliance with the FHA's design and construction requirements. According to a report from the San Diego Union Tribune, the company claims to have hired and relied on competent architects and other professionals to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, but they apparently dropped the ball.

  • Alex Spanos, who founded A.G. Spanos Construction in 1960, has owned the San Diego Chargers since 1984 and formed the Chargers Community Foundation in 1995.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If older buildings retrofit their entrance and parking to accommodate wheelchair access, what about the units themselves? ...Does HUD expect every unit to be renovated to accommodate wheelchair access inside the units? If so, that is a very expensive process for those trying to make money on a rental - - not expend money they may not have. . .