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In its pro bono program, Gilbert Heintz & Randolph has focused much of its efforts on helping enforce the nation’s federal fair-housing laws. The two principal federal statutes that protect individuals’ rights to equal access to housing are the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The FHA prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. The ADA requires that public-use facilities built for first use after Jan. 26, 1993, such as rental offices, parking lots, sidewalks, and public restrooms, meet certain design and construction requirements that enable persons with disabilities to have equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation. Gilbert Heintz has been active in using these federal fair-housing laws to ensure that individuals’ housing rights are protected. The firm served as lead counsel in a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that raised serious allegations of racial discrimination involving the provision of homeowners insurance by Prudential Insurance Co., a leading national insurer. In conjunction with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Gilbert Heintz represented three individuals who were wrongfully denied fair access to homeowners insurance, as well as five nonprofit fair-housing organizations, including the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Fair Housing Counsel of Suburban Philadelphia. REDLINING The complaint alleged the insurer engaged in unlawful discriminatory insurance redlining. In other words, Prudential did not treat individuals living in minority neighborhoods the same as homeowners living in nonminority neighborhoods. Specifically, the complaint alleged the insurer used discriminatory underwriting guidelines and sales practices to deny homeowners insurance in certain areas and to determine individual eligibility for homeowners insurance. During 2005, after more than four years of intense litigation, the firm obtained a favorable settlement on behalf of its clients. Over the course of the representation, Gilbert Heintz committed 7,488 hours to the case. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee recently honored the firm with an award recognizing this work and the successful outcome. Today the firm is involved in two matters that seek to ensure that people with disabilities have all of the access rights guaranteed by the FHA and the ADA. People with disabilities often say a lack of accessible housing is the single biggest obstacle to equal opportunity that they face, particularly in multifamily housing complexes in metropolitan areas. Gilbert Heintz is fighting to ensure that developers that violate federal law guaranteeing accessibility are held accountable. In conjunction with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, Gilbert Heintz represents the Equal Rights Center in two lawsuits filed in the federal district court in Maryland against two nationally known residential-apartment developers. Both lawsuits allege the developers engaged in continuous and systematic violations of both the FHA and the ADA in the design and construction of numerous multifamily housing complexes across the country. The first lawsuit, which was filed against developer AvalonBay Communities in September 2005, alleges continuous and systematic civil rights violations in the design and construction of approximately 100 apartment complexes in Maryland, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. These complexes include more than 24,000 individual apartment units. The second lawsuit, which was filed against developer Equity Residential in April 2006, alleges continuous and systematic civil rights violations in the design and construction of at least 300 apartment complexes in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia. These complexes include more than 80,000 apartment and residential units. The various FHA and ADA violations that have been identified at the properties include inaccessible routes into and through individual units; a lack of clear floor space that would enable a wheelchair-bound person to maneuver around certain units with comfort; a lack of reinforced walls that permit the installation of grab bars and rails; electrical outlets and controls that are placed at heights that are inaccessible to certain persons; and doors that are too narrow to permit a wheelchair-bound person to comfortably pass through. To date, Gilbert Heintz has committed a total of 1,002 hours to these two cases and expects to commit substantially more once the parties move past initial motions practice and proceed with discovery and trial, if necessary.
Barry Buchman is a partner at Gilbert Heintz & Randolph and serves as co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee. Patrick Bryan, Elizabeth Feinberg, Antone Melton-Meaux, Hunter Winstead, and Ellen Katkin also contributed to this article.

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