WASHINGTON, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — The Justice Department announced today that the developers and designers of 31 apartment buildings in or near Helena, Montana, have agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that the buildings were not built to be accessible to people with disabilities, as required by the Fair Housing Act.
The department’s lawsuit, which was also filed today, alleges that the developers and designers of the properties designed and built the 64 ground floor apartments at these buildings with steps to unit entrances, inaccessible bathrooms and kitchens or other features that make them inaccessible to people with disabilities. The defendants named in the suit include the developers and their affiliated companies – Gabriel Nistler, Sommer Nistler, Ross Royland, Patrick Royland, Royland & Nistler Properties LLC and Werner-Nistler Properties LLC – and the designers of the properties, Derek Brown and Derek Brown Consulting Inc.
Under the settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the defendants must undertake extensive corrective actions to make the apartment buildings accessible to persons with disabilities, including wheelchair users. These corrective actions include:
- creating accessible routes to ground floor apartment entrances, accessible routes to parking, mailboxes and other common areas;
- making interior modifications such as moving the locations of fixtures or moving the location of electrical outlets and thermostat controls that make the apartments more accessible to people with disabilities;
- constructing new multifamily housing with enhanced accessibility features; and
- paying $20,000 to establish a settlement fund for the purpose of compensating individuals with disabilities who have been harmed by the accessibility violations.
“All people with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to live in the housing of their choice,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “By removing accessibility barriers in existing buildings and creating new accessible units, this settlement will help ensure that individuals with disabilities in Helena, Montana, enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act.”
“This settlement is emblematic of the Justice Department’s commitment to fair housing standards for all,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter of the District of Montana. “It sends a message that failing to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities in the construction of new housing is simply not acceptable in Montana communities, and helps ensure that the needs of those individuals will be considered from the earliest stages of the design and permitting processes.”
Individuals who may be entitled to share in the settlement fund will be identified through a process established in the settlement. Persons who believe they were subjected to unlawful discrimination at one of the properties either when they lived there or considered living there should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, Mailbox 9995, or email the department at fairhousing (at) usdoj (dot) gov
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Among other things, the Fair Housing Act requires that new multifamily housing be designed and constructed with features that make it accessible to people with disabilities. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing (at) usdoj (dot) gov
or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through www.hud.gov/fairhousing.