Last month, Christopher Hanback, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of the Holland & Knight law firm, expressed optimism that a district-court judge would uphold a summary judgment rejection in a case the Justice Department (DOJ) filed against Dallas-based JPI Apartment Construction. Others weren’t so sure. It turns out Hanback was right. On Jan. 9, the Northern District of Texas U.S. District Court announced that judge Jane J. Boyle upheld the Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendation rejecting summary judgment. The case will go to trial between June 18, 2012 and October 29, 2012
“We anticipated that Judge Boyle would affirm Judge Kaplan's decision because it was based on a thorough and well-reasoned consideration of the facts and law,” Hanback says.
The Equal Rights Center, along time advocate for accessibility, would not comment on the case.
The DOJ’s lawsuit against JPI alleges a pattern of failing to comply with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. JPI’s defense was that there are other ways to meet accessibility requirements and that failure to meet the standards favored by the U.S. does not constitute unlawful discrimination.
This issue will be at the crux of the trial, meaning that its outcome could have a huge influence on how the industry designs and builds apartments in the future.
“That the HUD Guidelines for Multifamily development are just that--they are guidelines that provide one possible way to comply with the Fair Housing Act and are not mandatory,” Hanback says. “Developers can continue to utilize a variety of designs and features to construction apartment and condominiums that are accessible to person with disabilities. Responsible developers, who have designed and constructed their communities to be accessible, should not be intimidated into settling baseless or over-reaching lawsuits for millions of dollars.”