WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging LJLD, LLC, d/b/a Debrecht Properties or Debrecht Property (LJLD), and Westminster Properties, LLC (Westminster), the developers and original owners of the Bridgewater Residences, an 84-unit apartment complex in St. Louis, Missouri, with failure to design and construct the complex’s covered dwellings and public and common use areas so that they are accessible to people with disabilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. HUD’s charge also names the current owner, Bridgewater Apartments V, LLC, as a necessary party to permit and facilitate the property’s retrofitting for accessibility. Read the charge here.
The Fair Housing Act requires multifamily housing built after March 1991 to have seven basic accessibility features for persons with disabilities, including persons using wheelchairs. These features include accessible building entrances on accessible routes, accessible public and common use areas, usable doors, accessible routes into and through covered dwellings, accessible environmental controls, reinforced walls in bathrooms to allow installation of grab bars, and usable kitchens and bathrooms. Failure to include these features is unlawful and makes housing difficult or impossible to use by people with disabilities.
“When developers fail to include accessibility features in housing, they deny people with disabilities equal housing opportunities,” said Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Such a denial not only harms an entire class of people, it is illegal.”
“There is no excuse, three decades after the Fair Housing Act required newly constructed multifamily housing to contain basic accessibility features, for builders and designers not to include them,” said Damon Smith, HUD’s General Counsel. “The Department will vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to ensure builders and designers meet their accessibility obligations.”
The case came to HUD’s attention when Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC), a partner in HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program, filed a complaint with HUD after conducting testing at Bridgewater Residences shortly after the complex was completed in 2016. This testing indicated that the apartment complex failed to meet the Act’s design and construction requirements. HUD then conducted two inspections of its own. HUD’s Charge of Discrimination alleges that LJLD and Westminster failed to design and construct the 28 ground-floor apartments at Bridgewater Residences, as well as its public and common use areas, in accordance with the Act’s requirements. According to the Charge, the inaccessible features at the complex include doors too narrow to allow passage by a person using a wheelchair, routes with steep slopes and inaccessible curbs, bathrooms and kitchens that lack sufficient space for a wheelchair, inaccessible public and common use areas, and building entrances that can only be accessed via stairs.
A United States Administrative Law Judge will hear HUD’s charge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he or she may award damages to the complainant for its loss as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest. If the case is heard in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to the complainant.
Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY).