Real Estate Developer to Increase Accessibility at Three Manhattan Apartment Buildings
U.S. Attorney Settles Design And Construction Case
On February 14, 2017, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced a settlement with Albanese Organization, Inc. and three of its affiliates: North End Associates, LLC, River Terrance Associates, LLC, and Chelsea Associates, LLC. The defendants agreed to make retrofits in the Manhattan apartment building The Verdesian and inspect and retrofit as needed two additional rental buildings, The Solaire and The Vanguard Chelsea, to make these three buildings accessible to people with disabilities. Together, the three buildings contain more than 800 rental units. The defendants have also agreed to establish procedures to ensure that ongoing and future development projects are also accessible to people with disabilities, and pay up to $500,000 to compensate aggrieved persons along with a civil penalty of $45,000.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires that new multi-family housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 have basic accessible and adaptable features for persons with disabilities. The complaint alleged that The Verdesian was designed and constructed with numerous inaccessible features, including excessively high thresholds interfering with accessible routes in the public and common areas as well as into and within individual units, and insufficient widths, clearance, and clear floor space in bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, and kitchens for maneuvering by people who use wheelchairs. Evidence of the inaccessible conditions in The Verdesian was provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) after a testing investigation was conducted in 2006.
“This lawsuit – the fifteenth of its kind filed in recent years – is another step in our ongoing effort to ensure equal accessibility for New Yorkers with disabilities,” said the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara. “Today’s settlement not only provides compensation for those who have been aggrieved by existing inaccessible conditions, but also provides that Albanese and its affiliates will implement procedures to guarantee accessibility at The Verdesian, The Solaire, The Vanguard Chelsea, and future development projects.”
FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “While continuing efforts by the U.S. Attorney to enforce accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act are clearly laudable, too many housing developers are still ignoring these basic requirements and discriminating against people with disabilities.” Freiberg added, “Only sustained enforcement activity and the imposition of serious financial penalties will alter the culture of indifference that persists in many segments of the housing development industry.”
Claims against the architect of The Verdesian, SLCE Architects, LLP, are still pending.
The settlement also established a fund to provide monetary compensation to aggrieved persons, which includes those who:
- Were discouraged from living at The Verdesian, Vanguard Chelsea, or The Solaire because of the lack of accessible features;
- Have been hurt in any way by the lack of accessible features at The Verdesian, Vanguard Chelsea, or The Solaire;
- Paid to have an apartment at The Verdesian, Vanguard Chelsea, or The Solaire made more accessible to persons with disabilities; or
- Otherwise were discriminated against on the basis of disability at The Verdesian, Vanguard Chelsea, or The Solaire as a result of the inaccessible design and construction of the properties.
Any individual who may be entitled to compensation should file a claim by contacting the Civil Rights Complaint Line at (212) 637-0840, using the Civil Rights Complaint Form available on the United States Attorney’s Office’s website http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/civilrights.html, or by sending a written claim to:
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York
86 Chambers Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10007
Attention: Chief, Civil Rights Unit
The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs to foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing enforcement in the New York City region.