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Accessibility lawsuits and the Obama administration.

UNDER THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (ItUD) have pursued lawsuits against a number of apartment developers for alleged accessibility design violations. Owners wonder if that might change under the Obama administration.

"Some might assume there will be more civil rights-based enforcement cases brought forth in the new administration," said Christopher Hanback, Partner, Holland & Knight. "The question is whether they will pursue a broader agenda of matters involving race, national origin, voting rights, families with children and disability accommodations in general or will they continue to focus disproportionately on accessible design and construction and religious discrimination issues. It's difficult to predict, because who would have thought that the Bush administration's DoJ would have gone after so many of the little guys in [the apartment] industry on construction and design issues. DoJ reports that since 2001, there have been more than 30 settlements on accessible construction and design issues." Hanback further noted that "DoJ and HUD usually have not pursued fair housing claims against owners and others who are already being sued by one of the private fair-housing advocacy groups--but there are notable exceptions."

Michael Skojec, Partner, Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, said the Justice Department and the advocacy groups, including the Equal Rights Center (ERC), basically seem to be dividing up cases against owners in the last several years. However, recently, DoJ has recently filed amicus briefs in the AvalonBay and Spanos cases brought by advocacy groups and sued AvalonBay for a property in New York City.

"If the apartment industry, keeps winning cases--like last year's Garcia v. Broadway ruling--the DoJ might step in because the two-year statute of limitations does not apply to it," Skojec said. "If it wanted to, DoJ could intervene and make all the issues about limitations moot and then the apartment industry would have to continue to litigate those cases anyway."
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Title Annotation:Management Insider: Accessibility
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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