The designers and builders of Falls Gable Condominiums, a development near Baltimore, Maryland, have agreed to pay $75,000 to settle claims that they did not comply with the accessibility guidelines of the Fair Housing Act. Part of the settlement will be used to allow the owners of ground-floor units to retrofit their condominiums to meet accessibility guidelines. Some of the settlement money will also go toward making the common areas of the complex accessible.
BNI saw flaws in design of complex
The lawsuit, filed by Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI), alleged that both the interior and exterior design of the complex and its units were not in compliance with the law. Three residents at Falls Gable later joined the lawsuit. BNI pointed to six major design problems at the complex:
- insufficient and incorrectly designed and constructed curb cuts;
- poorly designed and an insufficient number of designated handicapped parking spaces;
- inaccessible common areas including trash bins, mail boxes, and car washing facilities;
- inaccessible entrance to a residents' clubhouse;
- inaccessible decks and patios in individual units; and
- inaccessible or unusable features in the bathroom of individual units.
Two plaintiffs that joined BNI in the lawsuit were an elderly couple.
Martin Dyer, Associate Director of BNI said that disabled homeseekers face problems.
According to the complaint, one of them uses a walker and cannot fully use their condominium's restroom because it is too narrow to allow the walker or a wheelchair to betaken in. The other plaintiff who joined the suit alleged that her ground-floor unit has no accessible pathway from the parking lot. This made it impossible for her friends who are wheelchair users to visit her.
In settling the suit, the developers of Falls Gable agreed to provide more and better handicapped parking spaces, modify curb cuts, and make the common areas of the complex accessible to residents with disabilities. Without these changes, according to BNI, current residents and future owners at Falls Gable would be denied their full legal rights to accessible and fair housing. Residential multi-family buildings first occupied after1991 are required to be accessible under the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act. According to recent studies conducted by BNI, many designers and builders are simply not obeying the law.
Disabled persons should not be segregated
Dyer commented on the importance of fighting discrimination against persons with disabilities. He said, "Just as the `separate but equal' doctrine was ruled inherently unequal for Blacks, so is it inherently unequal for people with disabilities."
Andrew Levy and Lauren Willis were the attorneys who represented BNI and the other plaintiffs in the case against the developers. Both are from the firm of Brown, Goldstein,and Levy, a leading civil rights law firm in Maryland.
from June 1997 Advocate