Washington, D.C.–The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) has just joined forces with the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council in Savannah, Ga., and Atlanta-based Metro Fair Housing Services Inc. on a housing discrimination lawsuit. The defendants in the civil action are Indianapolis, Ind.-based multifamily housing developer SC Bodner Company Inc., SC Bodner president Steven C. Bodner, Indianapolis-based MBA Construction and six apartment community owners.
In the lawsuit, filed August 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by neglecting to make apartments with accessible features available. The civil action was brought based upon information NFHA et al obtained via onsite investigations. The team discovered that, at six SC Bodner multifamily communities–located in Port Wentworth and Macon, Ga., Granger and Evansville, Ind., Lexington, S.C., and Memphis, Tenn.–the common spaces and residential units have design characteristics that render the spaces inaccessible to individuals with physical disabilities. Among the long list of infringing features at the properties are inaccessible building entrances, high thresholds that make it difficult to pass between rooms, environmental controls located out of reach of wheelchair users, and insufficient space in kitchens and bathrooms for use by persons in wheelchairs.
“These types of violations continue to be a problem and it confounds me that we’re still dealing with the same issues we were dealing with since 1991,” Wayne Dawson, executive director of the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council, tells MHN. Amended in 1988, the Fair Housing Act mandates owners of multifamily housing properties to incorporate certain design features to accommodate persons with disabilities at properties developed after March 13, 1991.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was brought online in 1990, two years after the amended Fair Housing Act, and that has significantly helped the community, but ADA, in general, doesn’t cover housing,” he notes. “So the Fair Housing Act is better for enforcing the laws through private claims and through the U.S. Department of Justice bringing pattern and practice claims.”
However, in filing such claims, timing has been an issue. For private lawsuits like the one being brought against SC Bodner, there is a two-year filing period limit, and for the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative complaints, there is only a one-year filing period. “We have to detect the violations sooner,” Dawson says.
The SC Bodner lawsuit marks the fourth design and construction lawsuit initiated by the NFHA in recent years. “One of the most basic issues people have is housing; where you sleep at night, where you lay your head. It’s one of the most basic human needs, yet fair housing is still an issue. It just boggles the mind.”