Summary Related to 10/18/13 Press Release

Des Moines, Iowa – The Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) today announced it had reached a settlement agreement with Meadowlark Place Apartments, L.L.C., Hubbell Construction Services L.L.C., Wells & Associates, and Hubbell Property Management, resolving a complaint filed by one of its commissioners after testing had revealed violations of the design and construction accessibility requirements of the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 (ICRA) and the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The property where the deficiencies were found is Meadowlark Place Apartments, a multifamily apartment complex. The property consists of four apartment buildings, a community building, tenant and visitor parking, and outside recreation areas. Each apartment building houses 30 units, with 10 units on each of the three stories. The 40 first-floor rental units are the dwelling units covered by the design and construction accessibility requirements under the ICRA and FHA. The first Certificate of Occupancy for Building 1 was issued on September 27, 2012; for Building 2 on May 30, 2012; for Building 3 on June 28, 2012; and for Building 4 on July 30, 2012.

As part of a fair housing testing study conducted by ICRC, a test was conducted of Meadowlark Place Apartments. The purpose of the test was to determine if the newly-constructed multi-family residential property was built in compliance with the design and construction requirements of the ICRA and FHA. The deficiencies uncovered included: (1) a water pipe approximately two inches in height running across the floor in front of the laundry washers that created an obstruction for a person using a wheelchair; (2) the path around the kitchen islands, which at a width clearance of 30 inches was too narrow for a person  using a wheelchair to navigate; and (3) a bathroom faucet located 15 inches away from the wall, which is too close to the wall for a lateral approach to the bathroom sink for a person using a wheelchair.

ICRC’s purpose in testing is to detect and then correct discriminatory practices.  Because these test findings indicated design and construction violations of the ICRA and FHA, ICRC filed a Commissioner Complaint.

The ICRC investigation included an extensive inspection of the first-floor units, which included gathering measurements on the exterior and interior common areas, and the interior of each unit. The measurements taken and observations made within the common areas included the width and slope of sidewalks and disabled parking spaces; the reach height of mail kiosks and receptacles for waste and recyclables; the clear opening width and the force required to open the doors at exterior and interior building entrances; the presence of door-opening hardware that does not require grasping or twisting; and the width for interior common hallways. Within the individual units, the observations and measurements taken include the clear opening width for the front door at each unit and each interior door, and the force required to open them; presence of door-opening hardware which does not require grasping or twisting; route width for interior hallways, kitchens, and bedrooms; maneuverability in bathrooms; and reach heights for environmental and doorbell/intercom controls, and electrical outlets.

The investigators gathered and analyzed the data to determine whether the first-floor units at Meadowlark Apartments were built in compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA and the ICRA, which require that ground floor dwelling units in non-elevator buildings with four or more dwelling units built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 comply with seven accessibility criteria:  (1) An accessible building entrance on an accessible route; (2) Accessible public and common use areas; (3) Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair); (4) Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit; (5) Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations; (6) Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars; and (7) Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

The information collected indicated 280 total instances of 13 types of deficiencies within the 40 ground-floor units, while 45 total instances of seven types of deficiencies were uncovered in the common and public access areas. The total number of deficiencies uncovered at the entire complex was 325.

On August 13, 2013, a settlement agreement was reached by the parties. The owner, builder, architect, and property manager all agreed to implement fixes and retrofits within a specified time period to address all of the uncovered deficiencies, including: (1) removing and replacing sidewalks to correct slope deficiencies; (2) building additional sidewalks to bypass the inaccessible path to exterior recreation areas; (3) repositioning waste dumpsters on newly-built concrete platforms to meet accessibility requirements; (4) relabeling the individual mailboxes within each kiosk to bring the mailboxes for the first-floor units within reach-accessible requirements;  (5) decreasing the force required to open all exterior and interior doors; (6) repositioning exercise equipment in the fitness room to meet maneuverability requirements; (7) widening hallways within units; (8) repositioning kitchen islands to increase clear width of path; (9) repositioning environmental and doorbell/intercom controls, and electrical outlets within accessible reach guidelines; (10) installing removable cabinets in bathrooms; (11) repositioning toilets and bathroom sinks; (12) replacing bathroom shower stalls with larger ones to meet ICRA and FHA requirements; (13) and repositioning the pipe in front of laundry washers upon tenant request as a reasonable accommodation. They also committed to abide by the FHA and ICRA design and construction requirements in their future multifamily property construction projects.

Director Townsend said of the settlement, “For over 20 years the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the Iowa Civil Rights Act have mandated specific accessibility features in covered multifamily dwellings. While, it is unfortunate that these design and construction deficiencies were not addressed at the blueprint or development stage, the Respondents fully cooperated with the investigation and readily agreed to make the necessary retrofits in a timely manner.  The settlement reached in this case benefits all Iowans, especially those with disabilities who need accessible housing.” 

Inquiries contact Don Grove, Supervisor of Housing Investigations, Phone: 515-281-0338 

Date: October 18, 2013

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