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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Developer Faces DOJ Ire Over Housing Units

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - The federal government sued the developer of 71 multi-family housing developments across the Southeast on Wednesday over claims they failed to make their units accessible to people with disabilities.

Allan Rappuhn and his companies Gateway Construction and Gateway Properties LLC are accused of developing and constructing buildings in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee that do not comply with accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

According to the 105-page complaint filed in Birmingham Federal Court, the housing developments contain at least 4,000 units, of which at least 2,700 are covered by the multifamily housing accessibility requirements under the Federal Housing Act.

Alleged violations of the Acts include inaccessible routes around the developments, insufficient maneuvering space in the kitchens and bathrooms, excessive slopes and abrupt level changes and inaccessible environmental controls in the units. Additionally, there is allegedly a lack of parking spaces by the leasing offices and the public bathrooms have no turning space and the paper towel dispensers are placed too high.

The complaint says that many of these developments received financial assistance from the federal government's Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and are therefore required to comply with the requirements under the Fair Housing Act that prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability.

Allan Rappuhn responded to the lawsuit with a written statement in which he says he has been in business for 25 years and prides himself with running a "careful, diligent business in a highly regulated industry."

Rappuhn went to say he did know why the Justice Department began reviewing his properties, but that since being notified of the investigation, he has fully cooperated.

He says many of the issues identified by the Justice Department involve sidewalks that have a 6 percent slope instead of a maximum 5 percent mandated by the ADA, but he argues, "many small deviations from a code would normally be considered building construction tolerances. More than half of the properties involved were constructed more than 10 years ago, and some as many as 25 years ago, and the alleged sloping problems at these properties have been caused by various factors that occur over time, such as rain and traffic."

Rappuhn said the Justice Department, "filed the complaint yesterday in light of on-going negotiations, our complete cooperation, and our stated intent and efforts to satisfactorily address any substantiated findings."

He concluded his statement by saying he fully expects to satisfactorily resolve the matter.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1990 and requires that houses built after 1991 have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units and units accessible to wheelchair users and others with disabilities.

The Justice Department seeks monetary damages for those harmed by the alleged violations, the imposition of a civil penalty, and injunctive relief.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Cheek, of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham, and Ryan Lee, with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, are representing the government.

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