Disabled Alabama woman wins $110,000 after being denied transfer to accessible apartment

A disabled Alabama woman settled a housing discrimination complaint for $110,000 in February. The woman asserted that she had suffered at the hands of her landlord who refused to transfer her to a wheelchair-accessible apartment.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, and the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center filed suit in federal court against the owner and builder of an apartment complex. They alleged that the defendants failed to build the complex in accordance with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. The defendants also failed to accommodate the woman's request for a transfer to an accessible apartment. This was the first accessibility case filed in Alabama under the 1988 Act.

Woman forced to depend on others for help with hygiene and mobility

The plaintiff said in her complaint that she could not enter the only bathroom at her apartment in Jemison, Alabama because the door was not wide enough for her wheelchair. Because she could not get into the bathroom, the woman relied on her two daughters to assist her with using the toilet and with maintaining her personal hygiene.

The plaintiff also complained that there was no ramp leading into her apartment. Because of a steep step leading into the parking lot, the woman used a dirt and grass incline to reach the sidewalk. Often, the dirt and grass would cause her wheelchair to roll over. Sometimes, the woman was forced to wait for someone to help her up.

According to the lawsuit, the landlords promised the woman that they would transfer her to one of the two wheelchair-accessible apartments when they became available. However, the complaint noted, when the apartments did become available, tenants without physical disabilities moved into them.

The woman contacted the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center (CAFHC) in Montgomery in August 1996 with her complaint. The CAFHC and the woman filed a federal lawsuit later that month. HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) partially funds the CAFHC and its enforcement activities.

Faith Cooper, Executive Director of the CAFHC, said she was pleased with the settlement. "It is crucial that Alabama apartment owners and builders understand that disabled tenants have the same rights as other tenants, and that builders know they are required by law to construct barrier-free housing," Cooper said.

The settlement agreement requires the complex owners, Caton Properties of Jemison, and its builders, Parker, Prescott, and Payton Builders of Montgomery, to pay $50,000 to the woman and her two daughters and $60,000 into a fund that will be used to retrofit apartments for wheelchair users.

The apartment complex was opened after March 13, 1991, which means builders should have built it according to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. The Act has specific accessibility requirements for all multifamily housing.