FARGO — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed its first Fair Housing Act lawsuit in North Dakota, alleging a pattern of violations related to the design and construction of multifamily housing.
The lawsuit, filed in March, alleges discrimination against people with disabilities involving four projects by Grand Forks developer Hampton Corporation Inc. and several other individuals and entities.
One property with alleged violations is Townhomes at Charleswood, located at 1908 Burlington Drive in West Fargo.
Three apartment complexes in Grand Forks, along with the rental office serving them, are also implicated. The properties are multifamily, multi-story complexes, and none has an elevator.
“When dwellings are designed and constructed without complying with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility protections, people suffer,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
While most of the allegations fall under the Fair Housing Act, those involving the publicly-accessible rental office come under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Tara Iversen, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Dakota, said the investigation began in February 2016.
She said the law clinic at the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks was contacted by a married couple with disabilities, who were having increasing difficulty getting to and around their apartment unit.
The difficulties included a steep slope and step from their garage to the unit, a several inch step up into the unit and lack of an accessible route through the unit — in particular, narrow doorways, Iversen said.
Additional barriers at the properties involve inadequate interior space to maneuver a wheelchair and inaccessible parking.
According to the lawsuit, the violations exist at 116 units, designed and built over approximately 15 years by Hampton Corporation Inc.; Daniel Stauss; Scott Stauss; Steeple Apts LLC; HDD Inc.; and Times Square Townhomes II Inc.
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In addition to the West Fargo property, these are the Grand Forks properties in question:
- Carrington Court Townhouse Apartments at 3383 Primrose Court
- South Hampton Townhomes at 3174, 3274 and 3374 36th Ave. S.
- Steeples Apartments at 2850 and 2950 36th Ave. S.
- A rental office that serves those properties at 3001 36th Ave. S.
Iversen said the lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting Hampton Corporation and the other defendants from designing or building future properties in ways that discriminate against people with disabilities.
It also seeks an order requiring them to make changes to the properties to bring them into compliance, pay damages to people harmed by the lack of accessibility and pay civil penalties.
Daniel Stauss of Grand Forks, who is president of Hampton Corporation, did not return a call for comment.
Iversen said the department also reached a proposed settlement that would resolve claims against the architect and engineer involved in the design of one of the four complexes.
It would require Hepper Olson Architects of Buxton, N.D., and Pribula Engineering of East Grand Forks, Minn., to contribute to a fund to compensate people harmed by the violations and require the architectural firm to contribute to a fund to fix the inaccessible features.
Iversen said the U.S. is open to continuing settlement discussions with the remaining defendants.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.
It requires that all multifamily housing built after March 13, 1991, have basic physical accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all single-story, ground-floor units and to all units in a building served by an elevator.
Anyone who believes they may have been harmed by inaccessible features at the above properties is asked to call the Department of Justice at 1-800-896-7743, extension 9994.