RENO, NV – In an agreement approved July 12, 2005, in U.S. District Court in Reno, NV, a Reno-based developer, an engineering firm, and an individual architect settled a housing discrimination lawsuit filed by Silver State Fair Housing Council (SSFHC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The suit alleged that Silver Lake Apartments and Sierra Sage Apartments in Reno were not designed and constructed in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. SSFHC, a private non-profit agency whose mission is to ensure equal housing opportunity in northern Nevada, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in November, 2002, after investigating a complaint from a community advocacy group, Northern Nevadans for Equal Access, about possible accessibility violations at Silver Lake Apartments. SSFHC also filed suit in federal court. A subsequent investigation by HUD resulted in the issuance of a Charge of Discrimination and prosecution by DOJ.
Local developer ERGS, Inc., civil engineering firm CFA, Inc., and architect John McCamant agreed to a settlement including accessibility retrofits with an estimated cost of $1.67 million; a $150,000 aggrieved persons fund to be administered by DOJ; a $30,000 civil penalty; $27,500 in damages to SSFHC; and $250,000 toward SSFHC attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. Katherine Copeland, Executive Director of SSFHC noted, “This agreement demonstrates the cost of non-compliance with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Silver State Fair Housing Council is proud to have had the opportunity to work with the Department of Justice in crafting an agreement that sends a clear message that housing discrimination will not be tolerated in our community. We also recognize and applaud the fine work of HUD’s San Francisco Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in investigating and charging the initial complaint. The end result of this cooperative effort is expanded housing opportunities for individuals who would not otherwise have had access to these units.”
This is the third design and construction case settled by SSFHC in the Truckee Meadows since 2001. Continuing violations of FHA accessibility requirements, resulting in limited housing choice for persons with disabilities, prompted SSFHC in 1999 to initiate a notification program for holders of new multifamily building permits. Letters sent by SSFHC to developers outline the seven design requirements for accessibility and provide a list of resources. This program, recognized as a HUD Best Practices program in 2000, is a proactive effort to promote compliance and ensure equal access to housing for persons with disabilities.
Lori Smith-Ingberg, President of the SSFHC Board of Trustees stated, “Silver State Fair Housing Council believes that equal housing opportunity is a right, not a privilege, and that housing should be available to all members of our community, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, or disability. Any individual act of discrimination diminishes the community as a whole. SSFHC is committed to work toward the day when no community member has to experience the indignity of illegal housing discrimination and all neighborhoods reflect the richness and diversity of the larger community.”
Copies of the consent decree are available from Silver State Fair Housing Council and can also be obtained at the Justice Department’s website at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/caselist.htm.