Justice Department settles Chicago access case for $150,000 and modifications

A suburban Chicago housing developer will modify nearly 200 condominium units and establish a $150,000 modification fund to provide greater accessibility to persons with disabilities, under an agreement reached with the Justice Department in late April.

The settlement, filed with a complaint in U.S. District Court in Chicago, resolves allegations that Optima, Inc., based in Glencoe, Illinois, violated the federal Fair Housing Act by failing to design and construct accessible condominiums at the Coromandel residential development in Deerfield, Illinois.  Units did not include features which would make the units readily accessible to persons with disabilities. Under the Fair Housing Act, multi-family housing complexes with four or more units must include, among other things, accessible routes, doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, reachable thermostats and electrical outlets, reinforced bathroom walls that can support grab bars, and bathrooms and kitchens that are large enough to be used by persons with mobility-impairments.

The Justice Department's complaint alleges that, as originally designed, 192 condominium units in the six original elevator buildings completed at the development lacked such accessibility features as interior doors wide enough for wheelchair access.

Under the agreement, Optima will retrofit the interior doors of the 192 units; establish a $150,000 fair housing fund to be used by persons who would like to modify their units to provide accessibility features; and construct 72 units of housing with the accessibility features required under the Act in areas which were not originally zoned for multi-family housing. In addition, Optima must certify to the Justice Department that future developments comply with the Act.

"The law's requirements are modest but their impact is significant for disabled persons seeking housing," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "We are committed to ensuring that architects and builders of multi-family housing provide the accessible design features required under federal law as part of the construction process."

Lee noted that Optima had fully cooperated with the investigation and was able to change the designs for units in four buildings which had not yet been fully constructed at the time the Justice Department informed Optima of its investigation.

"Suits such as this one and others we have brought in Chicago recognize the importance of securing access to housing by persons with disabilities," said Scott R. Lassar, U.S. Attorney in Chicago. "It is our hope that these suits will raise the awareness of those in the building industry of the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act."

This case stems from a 1996 series of audits of construction sites in Chicago area residential developments. The audits, which were  performed in partnership with the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic and Access Living, a Chicago-based disability rights organization, consisted of "testers," some of whom were persons with disabilities, who posed as prospective home buyers and who inspected properties to see if they met accessibility requirements.