Suit Regarding Multifamily Accessibility Settled Before Trial

Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Knoxville, Tenn.–A settlement has been reached between the U.S. Department of Justice and a Knoxville company and other defendants in a lawsuit over whether the design and construction of 21 multifamily housing complexes in Tennessee discriminated on the basis of disability. The multifamily properties in question, built with the assistance of federal low-income housing tax credits, contain more than 800 units covered by the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility provisions, along with areas of public accommodation covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Knoxville-based Murphy Development LLC and 22 defendants will pay all costs related to making the complexes accessible to persons with disabilities, pay up to $350,000 to compensate individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing, and pay $75,000 to the United States.

The retrofitting includes modifying walkways to eliminate steps, excess slopes and level changes; providing accessible curb ramps; and providing accessible parking and routes to amenities such as clubhouses, pools, mailboxes and trash facilities. The settlement also provides for the replacement of inaccessible doorknobs, the widening of inaccessible narrow doorways, and the reconfiguration of bathrooms and kitchens to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs.

The case began when the Tennessee Fair Housing Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization, told the Justice Department about several apartment complexes it deemed inaccessible to people with disabilities. The department conducted an investigation and filed this lawsuit in September 2008.

Murphy Development declined to speak directly to MHN about the settlement, but did provide a statement in which the company stressed that the settlement “involves no admission of liability or wrongdoing on the part of Murphy Development LLC or its related ownership entities, and the Court has made no findings on the merits of the claims brought by the U.S.”

Also, the company adds, “none of the defendants in the lawsuit actually designed or built the properties at issue. Rather, Murphy provided financing and consulting services to the properties.

“In order to resolve the concerns of the United States, the Murphy Development entities have agreed to proactively modify the properties to increase their accessibility, and to create a fund to compensate those who may have been inconvenienced by any alleged accessibility issues at the properties.”

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