WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 7, 2014 – (RealEstateRama) — The Justice Department announced today that a Montana builder, Gabriel Nistler, and an engineer, Derek Brown, have agreed to pay over $26,000 and remove accessibility barriers at three apartment buildings in Helena, Montana, in order to settle a lawsuit alleging that they had violated the Fair Housing Act.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in 2013 alleging that defendants violated the Fair Housing Act when they designed and constructed an eight-unit property located at 175 and 195 Silsbee Avenue in Helena, Montana, with steps and other features that made them inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Under the terms of the parties’ agreement, the owners and builders of the property, Gabriel and Sommer Nistler and Nistler Engineering LLC, and the designer of the property, Derek Brown and Derek Brown Consulting Inc., must take actions to remove accessibility barriers at the Silsbee Avenue property, and at two other properties they designed and constructed that Gabriel Nistler currently owns. Those two other properties are located at 109 and 111 Reed Avenue and 1220 and 1240 Laurel Street in Helena. The defendants have already taken actions during the course of the litigation to improve accessibility at the Silsbee Avenue property. The corrective actions at the three properties under the settlement include removing steps from sidewalks, installing properly sloped curb ramps to allow persons with disabilities to access their front doors from the parking areas, creating accessible routes from the units to common areas such outside such as mailboxes, providing accessible parking and garage units, moving outlets to accessible locations, and making modifications to the kitchens and bathrooms to improve accessibility. In addition, the defendants will pay $17,500 to Montana Fair Housing Inc., whose investigation revealed the violations at the Silsbee Avenue property and which intervened in the United States’ lawsuit, and $8,500 in civil penalties to the United States.
“The Fair Housing Act ensures that persons with disabilities do not face unnecessary barriers to access to housing of their choice and are able to make full use of that housing,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is strongly committed to the enforcement of the fair housing laws that protect the rights of persons with disabilities to have equal opportunities to enjoy the housing of their choice.”
“This is a fair settlement that should be an important reminder to contractors and developers in Montana that persons with disabilities have the right, under the Fair Housing Act, to housing alternatives without barriers,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter for the District of Montana. “Montana builders do not want to exclude buyers or renters with disabilities and Montanans in general do not want persons with disabilities to be further disadvantaged. Fair housing laws must be enforced to give substance to that shared community interest and provide notice that planning and construction must be consistent with its objectives.”
The lawsuit, filed in September 2013, arose as a result of a complaint filed by Montana Fair Housing with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“The Fair Housing Act guarantees the right for people with mobility impairments to feel at home and live in a place that accommodates their disability,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to enforce the nation’s fair housing laws and create more housing opportunities for persons with disabilities.”
More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at , or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through www.hud.gov.