HUD Secretary Cuomo issues landmark order in accessibility case, requires modifications

In April, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo intensified HUD's crackdownon housing discrimination by issuing a landmark order that, for the first time, requires abuilder to make modifications to completed housing units so that they are accessible topeople with disabilities.

Order requires builder to make costly modifications to already-builtcondominiums

Cuomo's order requires modifications to eight condominium units in Crest Hill,Illinois, at an estimated cost of $62,000. On top of this, the architect of thecondominium project has agreed to pay an additional $9,000 to settle housingdiscrimination accusations. The Secretary's order affirms a decision by HUD ChiefAdministrative Law Judge Alan Heifetz. The decision is the first ever requiring a builderto make modifications to completed housing to make it accessible.

HUD brought the civil action for the Will-Grundy Center for IndependentLiving, a service organization for people with disabilities in Will and Grundy Counties inIllinois. Judge Heifetz ruled that Perland Corp. and its president/owner, William Persico,discriminated against the Center for Independent Living because eight ground-floor unitsat Meadow View Terrace Condominiums were not accessible to people with disabilities andviolated the Fair Housing Act.

Disability advocate says that builders ignore the Fair Housing Act'saccessibility requirements

"Our Center knows from experience that the fair housing law concerning people withdisabilities has been largely ignored by architects and developers," said PamHeavens, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living.

At a press conference, Cuomo said the architect involved in the casesettled separately. Thomas A. Buchar & Associates, Inc. of Joliet, Illinois agreed topay $1,000 in damages to the Center for Independent Living and to pay $8,000 into anescrow fund to be used to make modifications to condominiums by Will County residents.

Complying with the Fair Housing Act before construction is cheaper thanretrofitting

A 1997 HUD-commissioned study found that if builders comply with the Fair Housing Actduring construction, their costs rise by only one-third of one percent. However,remodeling a building after completion can cost a great deal more.

Heifetz's decision, which was affirmed by Cuomo's order, said Perland Corp. must do thefollowing:

  • Remodel seven unsold ground-floor condominiums and the common area of one building tobring them into compliance with the Fair Housing Act, at an estimated cost of $40,000.Remodeling will include widening doorways to fit wheelchairs, lowering electrical outlets,reinforcing bathroom walls to allow the installation of grab bars, and creating enoughspace in kitchens and bathrooms for a person in a wheelchair to maneuver.
  • Attempt to obtain permission to retrofit an eighth condominium that has been sold andthe common area for the second building, at an estimated cost of $10,000. If the newowners deny permission, Perland and Persico must set aside $10,000 in an escrow account todo the work in the future.
  • Pay $6,000 in civil penalties to the federal government and about $5,900 in damages tothe Center for Independent Living to cover the cost of future monitoring of theretrofitting.

The law gives Perland and Persico the right to appeal HUD's ruling to the 7th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Perland has not indicated that it would appeal theorder upholding Judge Heifitz's decision. HUD officials do not believe an appeal of theorder is likely.