Justice settles six accessibility claims against Pulte

The nation's largest home builder, Pulte Corporation, agreed in April to build multifamilyhousing accessible to the disabled in what Justice Department officials called a"landmark agreement" under the Fair Housing Act.

Complexes in FL, IL, and VA had flaws

According to CNN, the out-of-court agreement calls for Pulte to build accessiblehousing nationwide, compensate disabled home buyers whom they denied housing, and correctdesign flaws at six complexes in Florida, Illinois, and Virginia. Justice Departmentspokesperson Myron Marlin was unable to estimate how much it would cost Pulte to carry outthe agreement. It will likely cost the builder several million dollars.

The settlement agreement resolves a Justice Department lawsuit alleging that Pultebased in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan violated the Fair Housing Act. Pulte apparentlyignored several of the Act's provisions that require housing units to be accessible.

Under the Fair Housing Act, multifamily housing complexes with four ormore units must include items like accessible routes, widened doorways, loweredthermostats and electrical outlets, and bathroom walls reinforced so grab bars can beinstalled. The Act's accessibility requirements became law in 1988 and took effect inmid-1991.

Pulte agrees to redesign its units

Pulte agreed to take several major steps. The firm promised to redesign all futuremulti-family units to comply with federal law. In completed buildings, Pulte will widendoorways, redesign the location of fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, install new doorhardware and remove barriers in the public and common areas. Pulte will inform owners ofall covered units that it will retrofit the units at its own expense.

The home builder also agreed to pay $7,500 to compensate each person deterred fromliving at the developments. Each resident who moved into the units and had to modify themto make them accessible will receive $2,500 plus the costs of all the changes.

Justice Department officials commended Pulte for cooperating with the federalinvestigation and agreeing to mount a nationwide education program to train otherdevelopers and architects about the law's requirements. Many designers say they do notknow the law.

"By reaching out and teaching other builders in the industry how todo it right, Pulte will help make `access' a household word," said Bill Lann Lee,Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Justice Department.

Justice Department also settled four other accessibility complaints

The Justice Department separately announced agreements with four smaller builders anddevelopers in the Chicago and Atlanta areas where housing complexes were inaccessible tothe disabled. The settlements involved housing units in Marietta and Duluth in Georgia,and Oak Forest and Monee in Illinois.