HUD Secretary Cuomo upholds ALJ accessibility ruling

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 toalready-built condominiums

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 Independent Living, aservice organization for people with disabilities in Will and Grundy Counties in Illinois.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's accessibilityrequirements

"Our Center knows from experience that the fair housing law concerning peoplewith disabilities 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 case settledseparately. Thomas A. Buchar & Associates, Inc. of Joliet, Illinois agreed to pay$1,000 in damages to the Center for Independent Living and to pay $8,000 into an escrowfund to be used to make modifications to condominiums by Will County residents.

Complying with the Fair Housing Act before construction is cheaper than retrofitting

A 1997 HUD-commissioned study found that if builders comply with the Fair HousingAct during

construction, their costs rise by only one-third of one percent. However, remodeling abuilding 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.

"This decision tells everyone in the housing industry that HUD will strictly andvigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act," Cuomo said. "If you build housing inviolation of the Fair Housing Act we will find you and we will require you to make anychanges necessary to comply with the law."

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo ordered an Illinois developer to modify condominiums thatwere built in violation of the Fair Housing Act. It was the first such order issued by aHUD Secretary.