On September 26, 2016, Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) announced that it had settled housing discrimination complaints against the architects, builders and owners of the SkyHouse apartment buildings in Raleigh, Charlotte, and eight cities in other states. The complaints, which were filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleged that the balconies in the buildings were in violation of the Fair Housing Act because the sliding door thresholds were too high, making them inaccessible for people with disabilities. The respondents in the cases denied that the buildings were inaccessible or in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
As a result of the conciliation agreement signed by the parties and approved by HUD on September 13, 2016, the respondents will provide $1.8 million to help fund accessibility modifications for low-income individuals in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Texas, where SkyHouse properties with similar features are located. The fund will be managed by the R.L. Mace Universal Design Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the concept and practice of accessible and universal design.
In addition, to make units more accessible, the owners of the buildings will offer ramps and decking for the balconies, and make other accessibility modifications upon request from residents with disabilities. The respondents will further pay $50,000 for Legal Aid’s damages and attorneys’ fees.
George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, praised the respondents for working to achieve a positive resolution of the cases, stating,
We appreciate the effort that the respondents made to address the issues raised in our complaints. The modification fund will help hundreds of low-income people with disabilities remain in their homes by making them more accessible.
Jeffrey Dillman, co-director of the Fair Housing Project, noted that the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act are of great importance to people with disabilities, stating,
Accessible housing is an essential means of ensuring that people with disabilities are able to fully participate in the community. Designers and builders must ensure that housing meets these modest federal accessibility requirements, in addition to state and local codes.
The cases, Legal Aid of North Carolina v. SkyHouse Raleigh, LLC, et al., and Legal Aid of North Carolina v. SkyHouse Charlotte, LLC, et al., were filed with HUD in December 2015. The cases arose from accessibility testing performed by Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project, which uncovered the alleged violations.
The Fair Housing Act requires all multi-family housing built since 1991 to include certain accessibility features in common areas and individual units to allow people with disabilities to use and enjoy the property.
There are 17 SkyHouse buildings currently completed or under construction. Eleven of them have the high door thresholds that are subject to the agreement. The respondents are SkyHouse Raleigh, LLC; SkyHouse Charlotte, LLC; SkyHouse Charlotte II, LLC; Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates, Inc., in Atlanta; Batson-Cook Company in West Point, Ga.; Novare Group Holdings, LLC, in Atlanta; Beacon Partners, Inc., in Charlotte; and NGI Investments, LLC, in Atlanta.
Legal Aid was represented in this case by Michael Allen, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based civil rights firm Relman, Dane and Colfax, PLLC. Legal Aid of North Carolina’s involvement in this litigation was made possible in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.
Individuals may obtain information about the accessibility fund by contacting the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina at (855) 797-3247.
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through education, outreach, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement. To learn more, visit www.legalaidnc.org and www.fairhousingnc.org.