Sunday, December 13, 2015

Virginia Landlord/Developer Agrees To Retrofit Recently-Built 151-Unit Building To Comply w/ Disability-Accessibility Requirements & Pay $600K In Damages, Attorney Fees To Settle Fair Housing Suit

In Richmond, Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:
  • Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia Inc., or HOME, and the National Fair Housing Alliance said [] they had reached a settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit against a prominent Richmond developer and architect and a Henrico County contractor.

    The settlement with Hunt Investments, architect Walter Parks, MGT Construction Management Inc. and other entities involves the recently built Shockoe Valley View Apartments, a 151-unit complex on Cedar Street in Church Hill.

    The development team agreed to retrofit the complex to make it more accessible for people with disabilities and to pay $600,000 in damages, costs and attorneys’ fees. The agreement settles all claims.

    The lawsuit, filed in October 2014, alleged that the project violated the federal Fair Housing Act by failing to design and construct the apartments according to accessibility requirements for people with disabilities.

    The case was dismissed in April in U.S. District Court in Richmond, but reinstated in June after the U.S. Department of Justice got involved, filing a statement of interest in support of HOME and the national alliance.

    “The cost of going forward with litigation was very, very high,” Parks said. “The best course of action was to settle it.” “We settled it and we are moving on,” said Ronald H. Hunt, owner of Hunt Investments and Genesis Properties, which owns and manages thousands of apartments in the Richmond area.

    We always try to comply with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), but it’s really difficult, “ Hunt said. “The law is so ambiguous and it’s difficult to make sure you’re doing exactly the right thing.”

    Hunt said he hired a consultant to make sure the project complied and changes were made accordingly during construction. “We had a consultant and they (HOME) has a consultant and the two conflicted all the time.”

    Hunt said the settlement won’t prevent him from doing another new construction project, but he will hire an ADA consultant to review the plans and inspect the project through construction.

    Parks and Hunt have worked together on several apartment projects in Richmond, including American Heritage, the former American National Bank at 1001 E. Main St. and one of the first skyscrapers here; and Manchester Motorworks at 616 Hull St., which was Martin Chevrolet’s showroom in the 1920s.

    The builder, MGT Construction Management, is a subsidiary of Henrico-based Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer real estate brokerage.

    HOME said it will use $100,000 of the settlement to establish a fund to help retrofit other homes in the community.

    Much of the housing stock in the region was built before 1991, including rehabbed and repurposed structures, and they are not required to meet the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act, said Heather Crislip, president and CEO of HOME. “This is why making sure new properties are built in compliance is so important,” she said.

    “Everyone deserves the opportunity to choose where they want to live and to have access to all of the amenities of a housing complex,” Crislip said. “We are proud that the resolution of this case helps to dismantle indifference within the building industry of the rights of persons with disabilities.”

    Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said she hoped “this settlement will send a clear message to architects, builders and developers in Virginia and across the country that apartment buildings must be designed and built so people with disabilities can travel around the property and maneuver through their apartments without encountering barriers.”

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