Architects pay $435,000 to fix accessibility problems at two North Carolina multifamily developments

The Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with the architectural firm of Hite/MSM, P.C. regarding violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. Under the consent decree, Hite will pay $415,000 toward making retrofits to add accessibility features to the complexes and $20,000 to four individuals who were harmed by the lack of accessibility features. In addition, Hite will provide training to its employees on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act and will certify to the Justice Department that future design plans are in compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

The Justice lawsuit alleged that the firm designed two multi-family residential developments in Greenville, North Carolina without including accessibility features for persons with disabilities required by the Fair Housing Act. The consent decree, filed on February 13, 2003 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, resolves a lawsuit against Hite. The decree must still be approved by the Court. Two other defendants - an individual and Quality Built Construction, Inc, the developers and builders of the housing complexes - are not part of the settlement.

“Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act is critical to ensuring that persons with disabilities have adequate access to housing throughout the United States,” said Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “We commend the architect of Breezewood Condominiums and Hyde Park Apartments for cooperating with the Justice Department in resolving this matter.”

Under the Fair Housing Act, apartment complexes and condominiums with four or more units that are built after March 13, 1991, must include accessible common and public use areas - such as parking, walkways, rental or sales offices, recreational areas, and clubhouses. In addition, the ground-floor units in non-elevator buildings in such housing must include accessible routes into and through the dwelling, doors wide enough to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, outlets and environmental controls at accessible heights, bathroom walls that have reinforcements for the installation of grab bars, as well as bathrooms and kitchens that are large enough for people who use wheelchairs to maneuver within them. In buildings with elevators, all of the units must contain these features.