FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1997

CR (202) 616-2765 TDD (202) 514-1888

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES FIRST SUITS STEMMING FROM ITS INVESTIGATION OF INACCESSIBLE HOUSING IN THE CHICAGO AREA

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As part of a continuing effort to open doors for people with disabilities, the Justice Department today sued the developers and architects of five Chicago-area housing developments who allegedly failed to construct accessible housing complexes and apartment buildings. The five suits, one of which was filed with a proposed settlement, and three additional out-of-court agreements reached today are the first actions brought by the Justice Department stemming from an accessibility audit under the accessibility provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). "It is better to build it right from the start than to go back and fix it later," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "The law's requirements are modest but their impact is major." The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, charge the developers and architects with violating the law by not including certain features which would make the units accessible. Under the FHA, multi-family housing complexes with four or more units must include, among other things, accessible routes, doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, reachable thermostats, and bathroom walls equipped with reinforcements so that people with disabilities could install grab bars. The Department began looking at buildings in the Chicago area last year as part of a nationwide enforcement program. The audits, which were performed in partnership with the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic and Access Living, a Chicago-based disability rights organization, consisted of disabled and non-disabled "testers" who posed as prospective home buyers inspecting properties to see if they met accessibility requirements. The audits determined that virtually all of the units audited failed to meet the accessibility requirements. Of the 49 sites tested, 48

were found to be in violation. The Justice Department determined that 29 of the 48 developments--accounting for approximately 4,500 units--had significant non-compliance problems. "We hope today's action will encourage all those involved in constructing multifamily homes to learn more about the law," said Isabelle Katz Pinzler, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "Today's action reaffirms our commitment to enforcing the law by ensuring that covered multi-family housing complies with the Fair Housing Act," said Scott R. Lassar, U.S. Attorney in Chicago. Since the law went into effect, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has taken a number of steps to educate housing providers about their responsibilities under the law. HUD has issued technical guidance for design professionals and has conducted numerous seminars around the country to educate building industry groups about the law. In the three out-of-court settlements reached today, the builders have agreed to correct virtually all violations and will not be subject to fines or damages. Among the steps the builders have agreed to take are: redesigning units not yet constructed and, in completed buildings; removing steps at building entrances; widening doorways; and installing new door hardware. Pinzler commended the developers of these projects for responding promptly and positively to notice from the government that they needed to comply with the law. One of today's five suits was accompanied by a proposed settlement, which, if approved by the court, will resolve the case. The settlement would require the developer to pay $50,000 to compensate victims of discrimination or provide funds to persons with disabilities who want to add accessibility features to their dwellings. The developer must certify to the United States that future developments comply with the Act. The Department is currently involved in negotiations with the developers of the 21 other complexes which were not sued today. "We hope to resolve the remaining cases through negotiations," added Pinzler. A list of the complexes involved in today's enforcement actions is attached to this release, along with a summary of the Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements. ### 97-498