Don’t Take Civil Rights For Granted Even If They’re “Built In”

Accessibility to certain buildings is something we take for granted, and the Fair Housing Act is the reason we don’t have to think about it. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in renting or selling housing, but the accessibility part of Title VIII has to be built into construction plans rather than applied as checks and balances later, which means construction professionals need to have all the information about compliance before building — or risk huge, costly overhauls. Take as an example a recent New York case: for violations that were “baked in”, Glenwood Management had to pay $900,000 in compensation and a civil fine of $50,000 for violating accessibility rules with features like thresholds and out-of-reach mailboxes.

The Fair Housing Act is so essential that most design and construction professionals would factor it in without thinking, however for contractors who aren’t working with designers and who don’t have experience working on multifamily projects there’s a danger that they will proceed without the right information. The FHA is only one of the set of specifications including local and state codes that has to be taken into account. It may be confusing when inspectors only enforce local or state codes and contractors working without designers embark on housing projects without experience of these requirements.

Some requirements to think about include accessible public areas, accessible doors, entrance-ways via accessible routes, bathrooms and kitchens that factor in accessibility, thermostats, light switches and environmental controls within reach, and reinforced walls for grab-bars.

This Construction Dive article is a handy resource and explanation of the basic requirements as well as recommendations to visit the Equal Rights Center and the Department of Housing and Urban Development websites: Compliance is a complex and important matter that needs to be fully understood and taken seriously. Do the reading, but be sure to seek the advice of professionals before proceeding with your project.

The Attorneys at Valanzola Law Group specialize in real estate and construction law, with over 35 years of real estate, civil litigation, civil practice and probate experience. In addition, Attorney Matthew Valanzola has over ten years of industry experience in commercial real estate. We treat each case with equal care and provide expert attention to provide a solution to suit your individual needs. Please contact us today.

Published on December 5, 2016