Huge Apartment Accessibility Suit Settled
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 10, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC--Legal efforts by civil rights and disability rights groups to enforce federal accessibility requirements of apartments has led to the largest settlement of such a lawsuit in the nation's history.
Under the settlement announced Wednesday, apartment building developer Archstone-Smith Trust agreed to retrofit units in 71 apartment complexes in 16 states and the District of Columbia, to make them accessible to wheelchair users and other people with disabilities in order to comply with the federal Fair Housing Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to a press statement, the agreement requires Archstone-Smith to make changes to 12,000 of the 36,000 units in those complexes, including such things as widening doorway thresholds, and placing thermostats, light switches and electrical outlets at levels which can be reached at wheelchair heights.
The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, PLLC, filed the suit last December on behalf of the Equal Rights Center, the American Association of People with Disabilities and the United Spinal Association.
The plaintiffs estimate the retrofitting will cost Archstone-Smith about $20 million. The firm also will pay $1.4 million in attorney fees and damages. The company said its insurers would cover much of the costs.
"We applaud Archstone for acknowledging its responsibilities to people with disabilities and we are gratified that these issues have been resolved without further litigation," said Gerard M. Kelly, Executive Director of United Spinal. "As one of the largest residential developers in the United States, Archstone's leadership in correcting accessibility shortcomings at its properties will not only burnish its reputation in the industry, but it will serve to alert developers nationwide that the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act will be strictly enforced."
"Historic Settlement in Nationwide Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Developer Archstone-Smith Trust" (Business Wire)
"Apartment renovations will improve access for disabled" (Orange County Register)
"Wheelchair-access complaint settled for $1.4 million" (San Diego Union-Tribune)