NEW YORK (WJW) — They were advertised as “fully handicapped-accessible” apartments for seniors, but the dozens of complexes nationwide were designed and built in the same way: in violation of federal disability laws.

Now Clover Group, a real estate development and property management group based in Williamsville, New York, is on the hook for $7.1 million in improvements to its 50 senior apartment buildings across the Northeast and Midwest, including 10 in Ohio.

A dozen fair housing organizations, including seven in Ohio, started investigating Clover Group properties in 2019. They sued the developer in New York’s Northern District federal court in March, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and New York’s human rights law, and just recently obtained the multimillion-dollar settlement, according to a news release.

The lawsuit alleged violations at 38 Clover Group properties in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana, including 10 in Ohio:

  • Lorain Pointe Senior Apartments, 5401 North Pointe Parkway, Lorain;
  • Olmsted Falls Senior Apartments, 9299 Columbia Road, Olmsted Falls;
  • Parma Village Senior Apartments, 11500 Huffman Road, Parma;
  • Sheldon Square Senior Apartments, 125 Sheldon Road, Berea;
  • Southpark Square Senior Apartments, 15101 Howe Road, Strongsville;
  • Eden Park Senior Apartments, 1740 Eden Park Drive, Hamilton;
  • Fairfield Village Senior Apartments, 520 Patterson Blvd., Fairfield;
  • Ivy Pointe Senior Apartments, 732 Clough Pike, Cincinnati;
  • Kings Pointe Senior Apartments, 4120 King Road, Sylvania;
  • Simmons Crossing Senior Apartments, 27480 Simmons Road, Rossford.

Clover Group manages more than 6,000 apartment units, many of them specifically designed for seniors and advertised as “fully handicapped-accessible,” according to the complaint.

More than 30 million Americans age 15 and older have disabilities that require them to use a wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches, according to the complaint, and about 15 million people age 65 and older have difficulty walking.

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1988 requires all multi-family housing, like apartment complexes, built after March 1991 to be designed and built to ensure accessibility for disabled people. But the fair housing groups’ spot checks found most of Clover Group’s buildings were lacking, and that many of its properties were built the same way, using the same design.

Some routes to common areas are not handicapped-accessible, like the routes to picnic, trash and pet services areas at Southpark Square Senior Apartments in Strongsville. There, the community room is reached through four sliding glass patio doors, none of which are accessible because the threshold is too high, forcing residents to go around or up steep ramps, one plaintiff noted.

Mailboxes at Lorain Pointe Senior Apartments in Lorain are more than 4 feet from the ground — another Fair Housing Act violation, according to the lawsuit.

In some of the bathrooms, people using wheelchairs don’t have enough room to pull up alongside their sinks or showers. Also, the walls aren’t reinforced, meaning grab bars can’t be installed, according to attorneys.

Some properties have too few parking spaces that are wide enough for wheelchairs.

“The inaccessible aspects of the Clover Properties violate the applicable federal and state fair housing laws, pose safety hazards to people with disabilities, signal that people with disabilities are not welcome, and limit housing opportunities for people with disabilities,” reads the civil complaint.

The settlement includes about $3 million to retrofit public and common areas to make them more accessible to people with disabilities, like accessible routes, new ramps and curb cuts and the replacement of sloped sidewalks. With 50 properties in six states, that comes out to about $60,000 per complex, the fair housing groups’ attorneys told FOX 8.

There will be another nearly $3.4 million set aside to pay for modifications that residents request, like improvements to wheelchair access, grab bars or lower kitchen countertops.

Clover Group is also expected to give the housing agencies $750,000 to compensate them for their investigations.

“I think it’s really an important message that 34 years later — after the law was passed — that the multi-family housing needs to be accessible,” said Carrie Pleasants, executive director of Cleveland’s Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research. “It’s a message to other housing providers that they need to take this seriously.”

One of the apartment complexes affected by the settlement, Heisley Park Senior Apartments in Painesville, is still being built and residents have not yet moved in, Patricia Kidd, executive director of the Painesville-based Fair Housing Resource Center, told FOX 8.

“People with disabilities must have access to housing without architectural barriers if they are to live independently and with dignity,” she is quoted in the release. “Reaching this agreement prior to the opening of Heisley Park Senior Apartments will ensure that seniors moving into the facility have resources to accommodate their needs in the present and into the future.”

This isn’t the only federal lawsuit between Clover Group and the fair housing groups.

The groups allege Clover Group discriminated against disabled residents when they opted to charge them a $350 fee if they requested a designated parking space and tacked on a monthly surcharge of $15 to $20 for ground-floor units or units with special accessibility features like grab bars, according to a separate lawsuit filed the same month in the same federal court in New York.

“[Clover Group’s] policies have harsh consequences for seniors who have routinely been denied the full use and enjoyment of their homes and have created less accessible housing conditions that undermine their independence and well-being,” the civil complaint reads.

That case is still pending. The groups are expected to go into mediation in late September.

To reach a Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research advocate, visit the agency’s website and fill out a complaint form, or call the center at 216-361-9240.