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Opening Acts: December 20, 2021

Settlement Reached in Disability Lawsuit Against Operator of Assisted Living Program

WHEELCHAIR USERS WILL NO LONGER BE EXCLUDED AT EAST HARLEM FACILITY

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced a settlement that resolves a federal lawsuit against Vista on 5th Corporation, owners and operators of the Vista on 5th Assisted Living Program, a twelve-story facility located at 1261 5th Avenue. Federal  District Court Judge Hon. John P. Cronan so-ordered the settlement on December 17.

The lawsuit filed in May of 2021 alleged that Vista on 5th violated the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law by discriminating against people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

During an investigation begun in 2019, FHJC undercover testers were told that their elderly relatives who use wheelchairs would not be eligible for residence at Vista on 5th. Vista’s representatives incorrectly informed testers that state regulations required that residents be able to “self-evacuate in case of emergency,” walking unassisted down many flights of stairs. In actuality, New York state regulations since 2018 have explicitly prohibited assisted living programs from denying access to anyone on the sole basis of that person’s use of a wheelchair and have required such programs to make reasonable accommodations to give equal access to those who use wheelchairs.

In addition to a $95,000 monetary payment, the settlement calls for extensive injunctive relief. Vista and its employees will refrain from discriminating against persons with disabilities, including withholding information about housing accommodations, refusing to provide reasonable accommodations, or making statements expressing the ineligibility or unsuitability of persons with disabilities for housing at Vista. New fair housing policies and procedures will be adopted for reasonable accommodations requests, as well as in applications and admissions. The defendants will also undergo fair housing training, and FHJC will have access to Vista’s records to monitor compliance for a period of 4.5 years.

FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman stated: “Wheelchair users have every right to live in assisted living facilities just like other residents. As the U.S. population ages, more and more people will live in assisted living facilities, and FHJC will do everything in its power to ensure that the operators of these facilities understand and comply with fair housing laws.”

The FHJC is represented by Alison Frick and Alanna Kaufman with the law firm Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick LLP.

FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.