2 Westmoreland apartment complexes named in lawsuit over disability access
Ann Sloan was surprised to learn that the owner of the Hempfield apartment complex where she lives is being sued by the federal government for discriminating against disabled renters by building units that have “significant accessibility barriers.”
“Everything is fine for me,” said Sloan, who uses a walker to get around the 84-unit Walkers Ridge Apartments complex where she has lived for eight years.
Sloan, who is in her 50s, said she does not let her multiple sclerosis stop her from getting around the area. When the weather is good, she hops on her scooter and motors over to Target to shop.
The U.S. Attorney in Southern Ohio alleged in the lawsuit filed Thursday against Dayton-based Miller-Valentine Operations Inc. and its affiliates that the firm has violated the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act by designing and constructing units with barriers to accessibility.
Walkers Ridge Apartments and the 52-unit Allegheny Pointe, in Allegheny Township, were among housing complexes in 13 states named in the suit. Miller-Valentine has more than 3,000 units at those 82 sites, according to the lawsuit.
The Justice Department alleges that barriers to disabled renters include steps leading to building entrances, non-existent or excessively sloped walkways from the apartments to picnic areas, dumpsters, clubhouse and leasing offices. Bathrooms, kitchens and door knobs are inaccessible, and there is not enough space to maneuver at entrances to the apartments and to common areas, the lawsuit alleges.
The government wants the court to order Miller-Valentine to bring the properties into compliance with both the Fair Housing Act and ADA, pay damages to those harmed by the lack of accessibility and bar the company from building other housing complexes in a way that discriminates against persons with disabilities.
The developer built many of the complexes with federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits or with the financial assistance of other federal programs, the Justice Department said.
The complaint alleges not only that Miller-Valentine designed and built multi-family housing complexes not accessible to people with disabilities, but also “Miller-Valentine took public money to build those complexes and yet still built them such that some citizens wouldn’t be able to live there,” the Justice Department said.
After being contacted by the Tribune-Review, Miller-Valentine CEO Elizabeth Mangan said in a statement that her company hires professionals to ensure its properties are designed and built to be accessible, adaptable and usable by people with disabilities. The company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, Mangan stated.
“Miller-Valentine Operations does not engage in or support discrimination in any form, and we are not aware of complaints from residents regarding accessibility of our apartment homes,” Mangan said.
News of the lawsuit brought a mixed response from some tenants at Walkers Ridge, an income-eligible complex located behind the Lowe’s home building store off Route 30.
“There are no walk-in showers, and the cabinets are too high if you are in a wheelchair,” said Sherry Kulik, who suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy and fibromyalgia.
If she needed a walk-in shower rather than the tub bath, Kulik said she was told that she would have to pay for it herself.
Yet, Terry Hiatt, who has lived at the complex for seven years, said he is able to get around without problems with his leg injury. His license plate allows him to park in spaces for handicapped motorists.
“I think it is pretty well handicapped accessible,” Hiatt said as he walked with his grandson to the apartment playground.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .