FJI and JALA File Lawsuit Against Three Apartment Complexes for Failing to Be Wheelchair Accessible

JACKSONVILLE – Disability Rights Florida, Inc., the Protection and Advocacy Agency for the State of Florida, with the assistance of attorneys from the Florida Justice Institute, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, today filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against three Surfside Apartment complexes in Jacksonville Beach, to ensure that persons with disabilities can rent and live independently. All three apartment complexes—completed in late 2014— were built without any ground floor apartments to accommodate persons with disabilities, and without any elevators to the residential units located on the two floors above the ground floor’s parking garage, in blatant disregard of the Fair Housing Act. As a result, no one using a wheelchair or with a mobility impairment can rent and live at any of the three apartment complexes. The lawsuit names Jacksonville based Summit Contractors Group, Inc., Zona & Associates, P.A., KAE Apartments, LLC, and Kentucky based Eckstein Investments, LLC as Defendants, and seeks damages and injunctive relief requiring all three apartment complexes to come into compliance with the law.

When a tester for Disability Rights Florida, arrived in her wheelchair at Surfside Apartments to meet the rental agent from KAE Apartments, she was immediately told she could not rent because there were no ground floor residential units, and no elevator was installed to provide access to the units above the park-ing garage. When she asked if there were any plans to install an elevator, she was told there was not, and the other two Surfside complexes were identically built.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and clearly requires new con-struction to be wheelchair accessible,” said Randall Berg, lead counsel and Executive Director of the Flor-ida Justice Institute, Miami. “It’s inexcusable in this day and age for an apartment complex – much less 3 apartment complexes — to be built in clear violation of the Fair Housing Act.”

“Our office will continue aggressively enforcing the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabili-ties Act to ensure that residential multi-family housing is built with the required accessible features,” stat-ed Jim Kowalski, Executive Director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “Surfside Apartments might as well have hung a sign out front saying “Disabled Persons Cannot Live Here!”

“Until Surfside Apartments complies with the law and ensures units are available for those with wheel-chairs, other people with disabilities are likely to just skip Surfside Apartments in their housing search, rather than be subjected to the insult and humiliation of being told you can’t live somewhere,” said Amanda Heystek, Senior Attorney at Disability Rights Florida. “Because of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, persons with disabilities, like all Americans, have the right to live in housing free of discrimination. Disability Rights Florida remains committed to aggressively protecting the housing and other rights of individuals with disabilities.”

This is not the first time that persons associated with these Defendants have been sued for building inac-cessible units. The President of Summit Contractors Group was also President of Summit Contractors in 2002 when the United States of America sued Summit Contractors for constructing non-accessible apartments in Kansas. Summit Contractors settled in 2006. And now, ten years later, the same owner of Summit is back at it again.

The case is Disability Rights Florida v. Summit Contractors Group, Inc., Case No. 16-CV-954, in the Jacksonville division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis.

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