One of the country’s largest developers of multifamily properties, Indianapolis-based S.C. Bodner Co., faces allegations of fair housing discrimination.
Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and two of its member organizations filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis alleging S.C. Bodner and its president, as well as MBA Construction and owners of six apartment complexes, discriminated against individuals with disabilities.
The fair housing organizations claims that the defendants failed to provide apartments with accessible features, as required by the 1991 Fair Housing Act. In their investigation, NFHA, the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council in Savannah, Ga., and Metro Fair Housing Services in Atlanta, cited 16 Bodner properties that they have reason to believe are out of compliance in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
According to the organizations, on-site investigations at six Bodner properties uncovered inaccessible building entrances; high thresholds that make it difficult to pass between rooms; environmental controls beyond the reach range of wheelchair users; and insufficient space in kitchens and bathrooms for wheelchair maneuverability.
“Developers should know better,” says Shanna Smith, president and CEO of NFHA. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by the government to teach architects and builders what the law and requirements are. So I have a greater level of frustration knowing that as taxpayers we spent all this money to teach them how to do it right, but they still build it wrong.”
This lawsuit marks the fourth design and construction lawsuit that the National Fair Housing Alliance has filed in recent years against a multifamily firm. Past offenders include Stockton, Calif.-based A.G. Spanos Cos. and Las Vegas-based Ovation Co.
S.C. Bodner has not publicly commented on the allegation because the firm had not yet been served with the complaint as of press time, says Heidi Galey, director of property management for the firm, which was the 13th-largest builder in the country in 2009 according to the MFE Top 50 Builders rankings (it dropped its production count dramatically last year). “I do know that we plan to defend ourselves vigorously,” Galey says. “I can state categorically that we appreciate all people and there is no one we would exclude as a potential neighbor in our communities. We are proud of the product that we build and are confident that our projects satisfy all legal requirements.”
NFHA’s Smith is hopeful that the alleged fair housing violations will be resolved swiftly and with minimal expenses. “In the past, what has been very useful is that the defendant would sit down and talk with us and instead of both of us spending a ton of money on experts and arguing back and forth, we agree on an expert who can go out and look at the properties and then the owner will be able to assess how serious the problem is and take remedial actions.”