BNI wins $75,000 settlement in accessibilitycase

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 theaccessibility guidelines of the Fair Housing Act. Part of the settlement will be used toallow the owners of ground-floor units to retrofit their condominiums to meetaccessibility guidelines. Some of the settlement money will also go toward making thecommon areas of the complex accessible.

BNI found flaws in both the interior and exterior design of new complex
The lawsuit, filed by Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.(BNI), alleged that both the interior and exterior design of the complex and its unitswere not in compliance with the law. Three residents at Falls Gable later joined thelawsuit. 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 bathrooms of individual units.

Two plaintiffs that joined BNI in the lawsuit were an elderly couple.According to the complaint, one of them uses a walker and cannot fully use theircondominium's rest room 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 hasno accessible pathway from the parking lot. This made it impossible for her friends whoare wheelchair users to visit her.

Developers agreed to make necessary changes
In settling the suit, the developers of Falls Gable agreed to provide more and betterhandicapped parking spaces, modify curb cuts, and make the common areas of the complexaccessible to residents with disabilities. Without these changes, according to BNI,current residents and future owners at Falls Gable would be denied their full legal rightsto accessible and fair housing. Residential multi-family buildings first occupied after1991 are required to be accessible under the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act. Accordingto recent studies conducted by BNI and other groups, many designers and builders aresimply not obeying the law.

Associate Director of BNI, Martin Dyer, said, "People with disabilities, who nownumber more than 40 million, comprise a growing housing market all across the country.Their housing needs can no longer be ignored by builders, developers, designers,architects, and others involved in the construction of housing. People with disabilitieswant to be contributing members of society while maintaining lives of dignity andindependence. They cannot do so if housing, a basic human need, is not available."

Dyer later commented on the importance of fighting discrimination against persons withdisabilities. He said, "Just as the `separate but equal' doctrine was ruledinherently unequal for Blacks, so is it inherently unequal for people withdisabilities."