MISSISSIPPI DEVELOPERS AGREE TO SETTLE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that the developers of six multi-family housing complexes in southern Mississippi have agreed to pay $350,000 to settle claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by building apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. As part of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at the six complexes, which have nearly 500 covered units.
Under the settlement, which was approved late Friday by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Mississippi-based developers Ike W. Thrash, Dawn Properties Inc., Southern Cross Construction Company Inc. and other affiliated companies will pay all costs related to the retrofits, $250,000 to compensate 25 individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing and $100,000 in civil penalties. The defendants will undergo training, ensure that any future construction complies with federal accessibility laws and make periodic reports to the department.
“Housing impacts critical areas of one’s daily life,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “This comprehensive settlement demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities to reside in and visit the housing of their choice.”
“Barriers created by inaccessible housing and public accommodations deny the fundamental protection afforded by the Fair Housing Act,” said U. S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi. “The retrofits required by this agreement will provide accessible housing to people with disabilities in several key commercial areas of the Southern District of Mississippi.”
“When housing fails to meet the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction requirements it further limits the type of housing persons with disabilities need the most,” said Gustavo Velasquez, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Hopefully today’s action will help developers to better understand the importance of meeting their obligation to comply with the law.”
The department filed the lawsuit in May 2014, after conducting an independent investigation of a referral of complaints from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Trial was scheduled to begin on Jan. 3, 2017. Under the settlement, the defendants will make retrofits, including eliminating steps; making bathrooms more usable; providing accessible curb ramps and parking; and providing accessible walks to site amenities such as the clubhouses, pools and mailboxes, at the following Mississippi complexes:
· The Beach Club Apartments (Long Beach)
· The Belmont Apartments (Ocean Springs)
· The Grand Biscayne Apartments (Biloxi)
· The Belmont Apartments (Hattiesburg)
· The Lexington Apartments (Ridgeland)
· Inn by the Sea Condominiums (Pass Christian)
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. Among other things, the Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units and units accessible to wheelchair users and others with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires, among other things, that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes designed and constructed for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, be accessible to persons with disabilities.