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Housing group sues Buckingham over apartment accessibility

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A not-for-profit fair housing group is suing Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos., claiming the apartment developer has ignored government rules requiring accommodations for people with physical disabilities.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance and two of its member groups, including the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, allege in a lawsuit filed Friday that four of Buckingham’s properties violate Fair Housing Act accessibility requirements.

The apartment complexes listed in the suit: Providence at Old Meridian in Carmel; The Reserve at Williams Glen in Zionsville; Champion Farms Apartments at Springhurst in Louisville; and the Apartments at Grand Prairie in Peoria, Ill.

"We have not had the opportunity to thoroughly review the complaint," Buckingham Tuesday said in a prepared statement. "Compliance with federal, state and local law has always been and remains a priority."

The suit claims Buckingham and its affiliated companies have built apartment complexes since 2001 with unfriendly features for people with disabilities, including access blocked by parked cars, insufficient floor space to accommodate wheelchairs, doors that are too narrow and thermostat units placed out of reach.

“These blatant violations, and many others, effectively communicate that people with disabilities are not welcome at [Buckingham] properties,” the suit claims.

At issue is a 1988 law that requires apartment buildings with more than four units built for occupancy after March 1991 to meet certain requirements. Ground-floor units and those served by elevators must have accessible routes into and out of apartments, doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, ample space to maneuver a wheelchair in bathrooms and kitchens, and light switches and thermostat controls within reach of a person in a wheelchair.

The National Fair Housing Alliance issued a news release Tuesday announcing its suit against Buckingham.

“It has been more than 20 years since the effective date of the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements, and builders are continuing to build apartments that effectively bar people with disabilities from the premises,” said Morgan Williams, the alliance’s director of enforcement and investigations, in the release. “It’s unfortunate to see the violations we do when developers now have clear and straightforward federal standards to follow to ensure that properties are accessible for everyone.”

The lawsuit is part of a nationwide crackdown on apartment developers who fail to follow federal guidelines for accessibility.

In October, S.C. Bodner Co., another Indianapolis-based apartment developer, settled a similar suit filed against it by the Fair Housing Alliance in August 2010.

And last month, the organization reached a settlement with HHHunt Corp., in which the Virginia-based firm agreed to renovate more than 1,200 units at nine complexes to make them accessible.

The alliance’s suit against Buckingham, filed in a U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, is asking the court to find the company in violation of the law, order it to stop renting units until it brings complexes into compliance, to survey each of Buckingham’s properties to assess compliance, and to award compensatory and punitive damages.

Buckingham also is developing CityWay, the $155 million apartment, retail, office and hotel project at South and Delaware streets in downtown Indianapolis.

The 100 units included in the first phase are fully occupied. Three more residential buildings with a total of 150 units are scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013.

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