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ADA In The News

ADA in the News

Disabled win suit over apartment access

Owners ordered to retrofit 2 projects, pay civil penalties, damages

by David Flaum

March 1, 2007
A six-year-old lawsuit over access for people with disabilities at two apartment complexes ended this week with a settlement ordering owners to fix up the projects.

Richard and Milton Grant Co., architects and engineers for Wyndham and Camden Grove projects, also have to put $320,000 into a fund for similar work on other homes, pay $110,000 in civil penalties and pay $10,000 in damages to the Memphis Center for Independent Living.

The center sued in 2001 saying the owners, architects and engineers violated the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act in designing and building Wyndham at 3200 Germantown Road and Camden Grove at 1571 Houston Levee.

Grant had to refit 166 ground floor rooms at Wyndham and 276 at Camden Grove to accommodate handicapped tenants and fix public areas and access to them, under the settlement approved by U.S. Dist. Judge Bernice Donald.

Most of that work is done, said Milton Grant, partner in the company that owns the projects. He had no estimate of the cost.

"The law change was published in the Federal Register and we don't read the Federal Register," Grant said. The requirements weren't put into the building code until 2001, he said, some time after the projects were built.

"We look at it as a building code violation," Grant said.

The suit -- and another one settled similarly in 2005 -- stemmed from a survey of multi-family projects financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Webb Brewer, lawyer for Memphis Area Legal Services, who represented MCIL. The agency was hired to do the survey.

Part of the problem is that local code enforcement people aren't responsible for enforcing federal laws, Brewer said. It would be more efficient and less costly for builders if they were, he said.

The Grant companies and other defendants -- John Gillentine, architect; Henry Hart, Henry Hart Engineering Co. and Parker, Estes & Assoc. engineers -- must give MLIC $320,000 for the Community Retrofit Fund.

Homeowners and renters in Shelby County will be able to apply for up to $10,000 each to fix up their homes for access by disabled people, according to court documents.

The fair housing laws cover only projects occupied in 1992 or after, Brewer said. People can do work on older homes and apartments, but at their own expense. Many can't afford it, Brewer said.

The fund will give some people the opportunity to get that work done, he said.

"We hope this settlement will serve as a warning to other developers, builders, architects and engineers," said Deborah Cunningham, executive director of MCIL, which will get up to $32,000 from the fund for running the program.

The nonprofit agency is set up to help people with disabilities work their way into all aspects of community life.

-- David Flaum: 529-2330

Copyright, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used with permission. (http://www.commercialappeal.com)

[ Original Article ]

 

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