The National Fair Housing Alliance and Paralyzed Veterans of America have settled a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against a Virginia real estate developer that built apartment complexes in the towns of Port Royal and Ridgeland.
The groups claimed HHHunt Corp. built several apartment complexes -- including Ashton Pointe Apartments on Robert Smalls Parkway and Auston Chase in Ridgeland -- without respect for accessibility requirements.
HHHunt will make the complexes accessible within the next three years and has agreed to pay its opponents' attorneys' fees, according to a statement from the groups. The company also agreed to allow accessibility surveys of nine complexes, including Ashton Pointe and Auston Chase, to determine if they meet federal accessibility guidelines.
The plaintiffs have argued the company has discriminated against people with disabilities since 2002 by not including required accessibility features in multi-family buildings and common areas.
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HHHunt agreed to changes that could include altering entry doors with excessively high thresholds, removing large steps that block entry doors, minimizing steep sidewalk slopes, providing room to maneuver wheelchairs in kitchens and bathrooms, and providing accessible parking, according to the statement.
"When the thresholds for entry doors are too high or sidewalk slopes are hazardously steep, people with disabilities are effectively and illegally shut out," Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said in the statement. "HHHunt has worked closely with us and has promised to correct these problems. The Fair Housing Act provides clear and straightforward standards for all developers, architects and engineers to follow."
An apartment manager, who did not provide her name, said accessibility issues have been resolved at the 240-unit Ashton Pointe but declined to give details.
The complex opened in 2008 and was completed in 2009, according to Elizabeth Phillips, regional property manager for HHHunt. About 227, or 95 percent, of its units are occupied, she added.
About 94 percent of the 300 units at Auston Chase, which opened in 2009, have tenants.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex or family status.
Other apartment complexes named in the settlement are Abberly Crest, Lexington Park, Md.; The Gardens at Twin Hickory, Glen Allen, Va.; Abberly Place, Garner, N.C.; Auston Grove, Raleigh, N.C.; Abberly Green-Mooresville, Mooresville, N.C.; Auston Woods, Charlotte; and Abberly at West Ashley, Charleston.
Claims remain against J. Davis Architects, which designed one or more of the complexes, according to the release.
The National Fair Housing Alliance is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing, according to its website. Paralyzed Veterans of America works on behalf of veterans with spinal cord injuries to support medical research and civil rights for disabled people.