(CLEVELAND)––The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced the settlement of a discrimination claim against the developers, designers, owners, and builders of Stonebridge Waterfront Apartments, Stonebridge Towers and Stonebridge Plaza (collectively, Stonebridge properties) located in Cleveland, Ohio. The settlement agreement substantially increases the availability of accessible housing opportunities in downtown Cleveland for persons with mobility limitations.
In June 2008, a Cleveland based non-profit fair housing organization, Housing Research & Advocacy Center, filed a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission alleging that apartment and condominium units owned, built, and designed within the Stonebridge properties were not in compliance with federal and state accessibility guidelines. As a result, applicants for housing were being systematically denied equal access to housing opportunities within these properties in violation of the fair housing laws.
The OCRC completed a preliminary investigation of the allegations inclusive of an expert report before finding that Stonebridge properties were in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02 (H). Among other things, the complex lacked sufficient disabled parking spaces on accessible routes throughout the complex to allow safe travel for persons who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. The Stonebridge properties also failed to provide units with space wide enough to allow those in wheelchairs to pass through hallways and use the bathrooms, or kitchens. These design elements created inaccessible living conditions for persons who are disabled, thereby creating insurmountable barriers to equal housing opportunities.
"Failing to take the appropriate steps to ensure accessibility for our disabled population is not only unsafe for this group of individuals, but has the effect of excluding a group of residents who deserve equal access to basic housing needs," said G. Michael Payton, Executive Director of the OCRC. "We hope that this case will shed light on the impediments to equal housing opportunities for disabled individuals and facilitate understanding and encourage compliance with the design and construction provisions in our state's housing market."
The settlement agreement seeks to create a more inclusive environment that will allow persons with disabilities equal access to housing accommodations and eliminate impediments that would otherwise limit their housing opportunities. The agreement outlines that, within a five year period, more than 100 units within the Stonebridge properties apartment complex will be redesigned to provide for 100% compliance with all accessibility standards. Current tenants must be immediately provided necessary and reasonable accommodations in order to allow them the full enjoyment of their units. Additionally, twelve vacant and/or unfinished condominiums will: 1) incorporate construction and design changes that will allow the units to be 100% accessible at the time of sale, 2) all common areas located within the Stonebridge properties will be immediately redesigned to ensure full accessibility for applicants, visitors, as well as tenants, and 3) all common areas will include accessible pathways for persons who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.
Per the terms of the settlement, the defendants have agreed to cover expert costs, attorney fees and to create a fund to be administered by the Housing Research and Advocacy Center to assist persons with disabilities to secure modifications to their housing accommodations to make them accessible.
"The Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting the rights of all Ohioans, including those with disabilities. I commend the work of our attorneys and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to enhance the safety and accessibility of housing for persons with disabilities and shedding light on this issue," Attorney General DeWine said.
The OCRC is the primary enforcer of Ohio's laws against discrimination and will ensure that the requirements of this agreement are fulfilled within the specified time frames. Assistant Attorney General Marilyn Tobocman of the Attorney General's Office's Civil Rights section represented the State on behalf of the OCRC.
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Brandi Klein Martin, Ohio Civil Rights Commission: 614-644-0244
Dan Tierney, Ohio Attorney General's Office: 614-466-3840