Cincinnati, Ohio Case About Federal Accessibility Law Settled

The first case in Ohio to test the 1988 Fair Housing Act as it applies to accessible housing for people with disabilities has been settled. The owners of a West Chester apartment building have admitted that their building did not comply with the law and they have agreed to make the building and all ground floor apartments accessible to tenants using wheelchairs.

The federal law requires that all apartment buildings with four or more units constructed after March 1991 have public areas and ground floor apartments that are accessible to people with disabilities. All apartments on upper floors that can be reached by elevator must also be accessible. Owners of such buildings are able to accommodate tenants using wheelchairs by providing wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, bathrooms that are adequately sized and have reinforced walls for handle bars and accessible light, temperature, and stove controls and counter tops. The law applies to multi-family architects, developers, and apartment owners.

On August 30, 1992, Marc and Dawn VanRafelghem visited Plymouth Landing Apartments to inquire about renting there. Marc, who uses a wheelchair, found that he did not have access to the entrance to the complex, the rental office, or any of the apartment's facilities. The VanRafelghems asked the owners, William and Elaine Gunn, to make the building accessible by installing a wheelchair ramp outside and a wheelchair lift inside. According to the suit filed by the VanRafelghems, the Gunns refused. The suit was settled and a consent decree was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Carl B. Rubin on May 3, 1993. As a part of the settlement, the Gunns admitted that their building was not in compliance with the federal law and agreed to modify it accordingly.

A Cincinnati architectural firm will monitor the progress, at the Gunn's expense, until the building is in compliance. In addition, William Gunn was barred from discriminating in general against a person at his business because of his disability. In exchange, the VanRafelghems agreed to waive demand for $100,000 in damages. As Dawn VanRafelghem explained, "We just want to be like everybody else. If you like a place, and you can afford it, you ought to be able to live there."

Reprinted from News From HOME of Cincinnati, Spring 1995