Until 2011 it was clear that a person who purchased an existing multi-family development or apartment complex and was not affiliated with the original owner did not have the kind of liability that would require making every unit accessible. “Design/build” liability of that kind was reserved to the original owner of the project based on 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3), HUD’s informal guidance and cases like Silver State Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. ERGS, Inc., 362 F.Supp.2d 1218 (D.Nev.2005). Then, in April of 2011 the District Court in the Middle District of Florida denied a Motion to Dismiss filed by a subsequent owner, finding that it might be possible to prove that merely owning an apartment complex that did not meet FHA standards would constitute discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §3605(f)(1) or (2). Harding v. Orlando Apartments, LLC, 2011 WL 1457164 (M.D. Fla. 2011). More
ADA FHA Legislation
Last week I described how liability for design/build claims under the FHA can last forever. The same problem exists with design/build claims under the ADA, as shown by the decision in Frame v. City of Arlington. There are even surprises with the statute of limitations for barrier removal cases. For example, after a plaintiff encounters an access barrier he can wait as long as he wants before filing suit. In Pickern v. Holiday Quality Foods the Ninth Circuit said that as long as the plaintiff is aware of the discriminatory condition and is deterred from returning to the building the violation of the ADA continues. In Pickern the plaintiff had driven to the store within the limitations period, and although he remained in his car there was some evidence of real deterrence. Nonetheless, the rule stated in Pickern would allow a plaintiff to stew at home for as many years or decades as she chose before filing suit. More
In the heated debate over the new ADA pool lift requirements the hospitality industry, which is the industry most affected, has argued that tort liability for misuse of the lifts is an important objection to their installation. Safety is important, of course, but this may be one case where liability is not a problem because ADA requirements preempt state law tort claims. The existing regulations requiring fixed lifts may reduce the risk of liability rather than increasing it.
Federal preemption of state law claims has complexities enough to satisfy any law professor, but the Supreme Court has set out one very clear rule: “A holding of federal exclusion of state law is inescapable and requires no inquiry into congressional design where compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility” Florida Lime and Avocado Growers v Paul. This rule seems to apply directly to tort claims arising out of misused pool lifts. The 2010 Accessibility Standards give hotels and other pool operators no choice about the installation of pool lifts for new construction and renovations. Older pools must have lifts installed only if this is “readily achievable,” but the price of pool lifts seems to fall well within the range of costs that courts routinely find reasonable. Pool lift manufacturers offer models they say can be installed almost anywhere, so location is also no objection. From a purely economic standpoint the cost of installing a lift is far below the cost of defending even one ADA lawsuit over what was “readily achievable.” More
By Richard Hunt
In a letter to the Subcommittee on the Judiciary the National Multi Housing Counsel and National Apartment Association expressed support for HR 3356 as a solution to abusive litigation under the ADA and FHA. The goals of the ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services (“ACCESS”) Act, as HR 3356 are good, but it does not address the problem in a manner consistent with the goals of the ADA and FHA. More