The operator of an independent living community in Pennsylvania has settled claims made by the U.S. Justice Department that one of its communities violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against residents and prospective residents who used wheelchairs. The remedies will apply to a total of 17 senior living communities, although the operator denies any wrongdoing and disputes the allegations in the complaint.

The complaint against Blue Bell, PA-based Heritage Senior Living alleged that since at least 2013, Traditions of Hanover, an independent living community Heritage manages in Bethlehem, PA, discriminated against residents and prospective residents by “creating and implementing a series of discriminatory tenant occupancy and eligibility policies and practices that exclude persons with disabilities.” 

“While Heritage Senior Living vehemently denies any wrongdoing and strongly disputes the Department of Justice’s allegations, we appreciate the government’s willingness to work cooperatively with us to resolve this matter and to ensure that our disability accommodation policies and practices comply with the law,” Gretchen Vakiener, Heritage Senior Living vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement to McKnight’s Senior Living. “Heritage Senior Living remains committed to providing the highest level of service to its residents.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the community required wheelchair-bound residents to transfer into a dining room chair, charged residents who used wheelchairs an extra fee, and offered transportation services — prior to 2013 — that were not accessible to wheelchair users. The community also allegedly screened prospective residents “to determine if they were appropriate to live in the building” and reserved the right to terminate leases based on health conditions. 

Under the consent order, Heritage has agreed to establish a tiered settlement fund of up to $325,000 to compensate residents reportedly harmed by the policies and practices, as well as pay a $55,000 penalty. The consent order also requires Heritage to modify its policies, appoint a compliance officer and train employees about the Fair Housing Act.

These requirements also apply to 16 other communities managed by Heritage. The order prohibits Heritage from raising rent or fees to pay for the modifications or to pay for the settlement fund.