A lawsuit accusing a Richmond developer, a Henrico County contractor and Richmond architect of discriminating against people with disabilities was reinstated this week, after it was dismissed in April in U.S. District Court in Richmond.
The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case, leading to the reinstatement.
The suit involves the Shockoe Valley View Apartments, also known as Cedar Street Apartments, a 151-unit complex going up on Cedar Street in Church Hill. It alleges that the project does not comply with accessibility requirements.
The suit was reinstated by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer days after the Justice Department asked the court to reconsider its dismissal of the complaint by the National Fair Housing Alliance and Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia Inc., a statewide fair housing advocate.
The civil rights action, which was initiated Oct. 21, is against Hunt Investments LLC, MGT Construction Management Inc. and Walter Parks Architects — all prominent businesses in Richmond.
The case was dismissed in April because the project was still under construction, and actions were taken to address accessibility concerns. In a 23-page statement issued May 28, the Justice Department said the state of the project under construction was not grounds for dismissal.
The reinstatement means the case will be set for trial.
“We are pleased that we’ll have our day in court,” said Heather Mullins Crislip, president and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal. “Every unit built out of compliance with longstanding fair housing law violates the rights of people with disabilities — an outcome for which we will not stand.”
Ronald H. Hunt, the developer, said Thursday there are always two sides to every issue.
“We will be completely compliant,” Hunt said. “If not, we have hired the wrong consultant. I know of no reason we will not be in compliance. My architect feels the same way. ... We will see what the courts says.”
Hunt said he hired a consultant from Washington to ensure compliance. Several changes were made during construction, including changing the incline of a sidewalk, regrading portions of hallways by a fraction of a percent and moving countertops 2 to 3 inches.
He also said part of the law is ambiguous. “It’s tough to understand. I think we are there.”
Alleged barriers include doorways that are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs, and kitchens and bathrooms that are configured without adequate clear floor space for a person using a wheelchair.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal discovered the alleged violations in June 2014, confirmed them in October with a tester using a wheelchair, and says it continues to observe inaccessible features.
The city has issued temporary and partial certificates of occupancy, permitting residence in the apartment. Hunt said he hopes to receive the final certificate for occupancy by the end of the month.
Hunt said all the units, if not accessible now, can be redone as required by law to make them fully accessible. He said they have the ability and processes in place to do so within 48 hours.
Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said she is pleased that the Justice Department has stood with efforts to promote equal access to housing for people with disabilities.
Ann C. Hodges, law professor at University of Richmond, said it is unusual for a judge to reverse a decision. However, the Justice Department has a role in enforcing accessibility requirements. While it does not get involved in every private case, it may have seen this case as an opportunity to have an impact, she said.
It is much more difficult and expensive to make adjustments after construction, Hodges said. “That is one of the reasons that many of the architectural accessibility standards apply only to new construction or significant renovations.”
Other entities named in the suit are Cedar Street Genesis and Genesis Homes Manager, limited liability companies of Richmond-based Genesis Properties, which owns and manages 2,000 apartments units in the Richmond and Petersburg areas.