Opening Acts: December 15, 2014

Settlement Aimed at Making Rental Housing Accessible to Persons with Disabilities

Order Covers 4,500 apartments; Defendants Pay Up to $2 Million to Resolve Lawsuit

On December 10, 2014, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed earlier this year against a major New York City real estate developer for failing to design and construct rental housing in compliance with the accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act.  The defendants entering into the settlement include Related Companies, L.P., and its subsidiaries and affiliates, Upper East Lease Associates, LLC and Tribeca Green, LLC.  The settlement ensures that current and future residential development projects, including the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s west side, will comply with federal accessibility requirements. 

The consent order, signed by federal Judge Shira A. Sheindlin, details retrofits that will be made at four residential rental complexes in Manhattan to make them more accessible including, One Carnegie Hill, Tribeca Green, 500 West 30th Street, and 529 West 29th Street.  In addition, twelve other apartment complexes will be inspected under the order to determine whether additional retrofits are required in these developments.  If residents are temporarily displaced due to modifications of occupied apartments, the order requires defendants pay them for food and lodging at federal government per diem rates.  All totaled, 4,500 units of rental housing are impacted by the order.  In addition, the defendants agree to provide training on fair housing design and construction requirements for their employees and agents and take other steps that will ensure future compliance with fair housing laws.   

Finally, the order establishes a settlement fund to compensate aggrieved persons who have been harmed by the discriminatory practices and lack of accessible features at the affected properties. The defendants are required to pay up to $1.9 million in settlement funds for victims, in addition to paying a civil penalty of $100,000.          

In 2006, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) completed an undercover testing investigation that was aimed at learning whether architects and developers of new multifamily rental housing in Manhattan were complying with federal accessibility requirements.  FHJC’s investigation found that all of the new developments tested were not in compliance with federal requirements.  The FHJC turned over the results of its investigation to the US Attorney’s Office (SDNY).  Since the FHJC investigation was completed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed nine lawsuits alleging fair housing accessibility violations and, as of the filing of this order last week, obtained settlements in eight of these cases.  A ninth lawsuit involving the Durst Organization is still pending.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg praised the U.S. Attorney’s office for vigorously enforcing the accessibility provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.  Freiberg stated, “The outcome achieved by the parties to this litigation will expand housing opportunities for persons with disabilities in New York City.” Freiberg added, “It also sends a potent message to architects, developers, and builders of multifamily housing.  If you take steps to ensure that new multifamily housing is designed and constructed in an accessible manner, you can avoid the significant costs associated with protracted litigation, damages, and retrofits.”  

Aggrieved individuals who may be entitled to monetary compensation from the settlement fund in this case include persons who were injured by the lack of accessible features at One Carnegie Hill, Tribeca Green, or other properties constructed by the Related Companies.  This includes persons who were:

  • discouraged from living at one of these properties because of the lack of accessible features;
  • injured by the lack of accessible features at one of these properties;
  • prevented from having visitors because of the lack of accessible features at one of these properties;
  • required to pay to make apartments accessible at one of these properties; or
  • discriminated against on the basis of disability as a result of the design and construction of one of these properties.   

Persons who may be entitled to compensation should file a claim by contacting the U.S. Attorney’s Office  Civil Rights Complaint line at (212) 637-0840 or by using a Civil Rights Complaint Form available at http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/civilrights.html.

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