WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department sued Hattiesburg, Miss.-based Dawn Properties Inc. on Friday, charging that the firm and its affiliates violated federal civil rights laws by designing and building at least five residential properties whose barriers make them inaccessible to disabled people.
“When a developer fails to comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, it deprives those with disabilities of their fundamental right to live and raise families in the environment of their choosing,” said Gregory Davis, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, Miss., alleges that five properties the company built in Mississippi have significant barriers, such as steps leading to buildings, and lack handicapped ramps and maneuvering space for wheelchairs in bathrooms and kitchens. Light switches and environmental controls also were excessively high, it said.
The properties include the Grand Biscayne in Biloxi, the Lexington in Ridgeland, the Beach Club in Long Beach, the Belmont in Hattiesburg and Inn by the Sea in Pass Christian.
The firm’s founder and president, Ike Thrash, could not be reached and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dawn Properties has developed multifamily properties in 40 markets in 13 states, as well as over 3,000 rental and condominium units across the Southeast, according to the company’s website.
Thrash and his wife, Dawn, also are among major owners of thoroughbred race horses, having raced 200 horses at over 20 racetracks, including in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, the site says.
The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to bring any properties they have designed since 1991 into compliance with the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as monetary damages.