Denver developers will pay several hundred thousand dollars to make complex more accessible

The designers, builders, and owners of an upscale Denver apartment complex known as TheBreakers have agreed to spend several hundred thousand dollars to modify ground floorunits so that persons with physical disabilities can live there. The October agreementcame into response to complaints filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

Accordingto Judy Fester of the Division, this was the first accessibility case pursued by the stateof Colorado against a developer.

According to complaints, a person using a standard wheelchair could not fit through thebathroom doors in the units. There were also no ramps at The Breakers, according to the DenverPost. Many units were accessible only by using steps.

"People are confused about the law. So, they're hiding, putting their heads in thesand," Fester told the Denver Post.

No one enforces accessibility laws, so developers and architects don't followthem

Brenda Sauro, an attorney representing the owners and builders of The Breakers,admitted that her clients were ignorant of the law. She said, "There's not a lot ofawareness of the law's requirements in the building and architectural community. It's beenon the books, but nobody has enforced it."

Sauro claimed that her clients were surprised to learn that the buildings did not meetfederal guidelines because they had been assured by the architects that they would be incompliance. Murata Outland, the firm that designed The Breakers, claimed that the planswere drawn up in 1990, before the Fair Housing Act's accessibility guidelines were inforce. The firm's attorney further asserted that the plans were approved by officials, sothey were sure that they were in compliance with the law.

The Division pointed out, however, that the accessibility requirements were passed in1988 and were to be followed for multi-family complexes that would be first occupied, notdesigned, after March 13, 1991. Eventually, Murata Outland agreed to share the cost ofretrofitting units at The Breakers.

According to the agreement, 315 ground-floor units will be modified at the complex,which was designed as six villages surrounding a 60-acre lake. The changes includereplacing steps with ramps, widening interior doors to at least 34 inches, themodification of kitchens, and the lowering of light switches, thermostats, and othercontrols. Common areas at the complex will also be modified.

Division Director puts the blame on the designers and architects of complex

Jack Lang y Marquez, director of the Division, said that the architects who designedThe Breakers "didn't do their job" and led the owners to believe that thecomplex was in compliance with accessibility laws. "It was a costly mistake,"Lang y Marquez told the Denver Post. "The Breakers will pay hundreds ofthousands of dollars to retrofit design changes that are fairly easy and inexpensive ifmade before construction starts."

Gary Adler, a resident at The Breakers who is mobility impaired, filed the originalcomplaint.

According to the Division, the exact cost of the renovation is unknown. The Divisionhad never previously ordered retrofitting on such a large scale.