Justice Department gets $350,000 settlement in accessibility case against Las Vegas condo developers

In February, the U.S. Department of Justice received a $350,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit against the developer, builder, engineer, and architect responsible for the design and construction of the Raintree Village Condominiums in Las Vegas, Nevada. The settlement calls for the developer to pay to retrofit the condominium complex to bring it into compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act and to compensate persons who have been harmed by the lack of accessible features at the complex.

Owners displaced by modifications will be paid $1,000 for inconvenience

The Consent Decree requires the Defendants to pay

$280,000 into a fund that will be used to modify the common areas and to modify the ground floor condominium units at no expense to the owners. In all, 49 types of modifications will be made to the common areas and ground floor units at Raintree Village. Current owners who elect to have their units made accessible will receive a $1,000 incentive payment to compensate them for the inconvenience of having work done to their unit. The Decree also provides for the payment of $70,000 to eight households for the individuals who were harmed by the lack of accessible features at the complex. 

In its complaint in the Federal District Court in Las Vegas, the Justice Department alleged that the common areas including the swimming pool at Raintree Village did not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Many of the individual dwelling units on the ground floor were inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs, because the doors were too narrow to allow persons with wheelchairs to pass through the unit. Additionally, many kitchens and bathrooms did not provide the required maneuvering space for persons who use wheelchairs. Finally, the Department alleged, environmental controls were out of reach and bathroom walls were not reinforced for grab bars.

The Defendants in the case included Raintree Associates Ltd. Partnership, Falcon Construction Services, J. Lamont Langworthy, and Falcon Engineering Services. Each party agreed to resolve allegations that they had violated the federal Fair Housing Act by signing the consent decree. The decree does not spell out how much of the financial burden each party will bear.

The case against Raintree originally began as a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from the Disability Rights Action Center, a Utah-based civil rights group that works in Utah and Nevada. HUD referred the complaint to the Department of Justice, which conducted its own investigation prior to filing the lawsuit.

"The failure to make housing accessible when built has a devastating impact on people who need accessible housing, and the need for accessible housing will become even more pronounced as the number of elderly persons in this country increases" said Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "This agreement will help ensure that residents at Raintree Village will not be forced to relocate should they develop a disability."

"Ensuring greater access for people with disabilities is a priority with this Administration," said Kenneth Marcus, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "This settlement sends a clear message that we will vigorously enforce the law to ensure fair housing for people with disabilities."

Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, apartment complexes and condominiums with four or more units built for first occupancy after April 1991 must include accessible common amenities such as parking, walkways, pools, and clubhouses. Ground-floor units in such multifamily housing must also include doors wide enough to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, bathroom walls that have reinforcements for the installation of grab bars, and bathrooms and kitchens that are large enough for people who use wheelchairs to maneuver within them.

From the July 2002 Advocate