Trammell Crow Residential, Equal Rights Center Implement New Program for FHA, ADA Compliance

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorAtlanta–Trammell Crow Residential (TRC) and the Equal Rights Center (ERC) have come to an agreement after ending accessibility litigation initiated by ERC against the developer.“Our settlement provides that, for those projects we still own that were finished within 30 months of the date we were sued, we would have them inspected and brought up to standards based on some tolerances that we negotiated with the ERC,” Ron Terwilliger, CEO of Trammell Crow Residential, tells MHN. “In addition, we agreed to establish a housing center in hopes that we can get the industry to focus on the law and get training as to how to comply.”In July 2007, ERC filed a lawsuit against TCR, alleging that the firm had failed to comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 284 of the company’s properties.“The Equal Rights Center has sued probably 15 multifamily companies, alleging that they violated the ADA and FHA laws and has been able to acquire some local Washington, D.C. firms to work on these for them. These are difficult lawsuits in many respects, partly because the tolerances that are acceptable are sometimes contradictory and vague,” explains Terwilliger. “Nevertheless, TCR decided to enter into negotiations to settle the lawsuit rather than go through a protracted legal process.”In November, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided that TCR would be required to fund a new program to provide education and training to encourage compliance with the ADA and the FHA’s design and construction requirements.TCR will contribute $150,000 yearly to the newly formed Equal Rights Center Multifamily Housing Resource Program, up to 10 years, although the amount is subject to be reduced if additional apartment firms join the program.The firms that have been sued did not intentionally skirt the laws, but rather were simply let down by their design consultants and the local zoning authorities, Terwilliger adds. “You would think that if a law required a certain kind of design, the design consultants would design in conformance and you wouldn’t be able to get a certificate of occupancy, much less a building permit, if you didn’t comply. Apparently, that’s no defense so it’s ‘developer beware,’ ” he says. The program will offer knowledgeable consultants that could advise on design and construction standards and attempt to head off further litigation, as well as settle existing lawsuits, Terwilliger explains.