Opening Acts: May 23, 2019

Fair Housing Lawsuit Alleges Failure to Design and Construct Accessible Rental Housing

FHJC INVESTIGATION DOCUMENTS INACCESSIBLE FEATURES IN MANHATTAN AND BROOKLYN APARTMENT BUILDINGS

On May 23, 2019, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging that a major New York developer failed to design and construct two rental buildings, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, in compliance with accessibility requirements under local, state, and federal fair housing laws. The defendants named in the lawsuit are Gotham Organization Inc., FXFOWLE Architects d/b/a FX Collaborative Architects, 55th & 9th LLC and Bam-Go Developers LLC.

In 2014, one of the defendants, FXFOWLE, was named in a lawsuit brought by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York alleging that it had failed to design a residential building, The Helena on W. 57th Street in Manhattan, in compliance with accessibility requirements in the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2016, FXFOWLE entered into a settlement in which they admitted that the building they designed did not satisfy accessibility standards.

FHJC’s lawsuit is based on the results of a testing investigation conducted in 2018 and 2019. The complaint alleges that the developer failed to comply with accessibility requirements in the design and construction of the 53-story, 563-unit apartment development built in 2016 called The Ashland located at 250 Ashland Place in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and the 20-story, 145-unit apartment building built in 2004 called The Nicole located in Hell’s Kitchen on 55th Street and 9th in Manhattan. FXFOWLE was involved in the design of The Ashland. The FHJC investigation identified numerous features in these two buildings that are non-compliant including, but not limited to, public restrooms that were not accessible; mailboxes and electrical outlets placed in inaccessible locations; narrow doorways to a common area as well as some bedrooms, bathrooms, and walk-in closets; high thresholds and steps leading to outdoor apartment terraces; and narrow galley kitchens.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “When developers, architects, and others flagrantly ignore their legal obligations under federal civil rights laws, enforcement action becomes necessary to obtain compliance. Placing new rental units on the market that are not accessible makes housing opportunities unavailable to persons with disabilities.” Freiberg added, “Accessible housing is not a luxury or merely an option, it is a civil right.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination, retrofits of the buildings to make them accessible, and other remedial action to ensure that future housing built by the defendants will be designed and constructed in compliance with fair housing accessibility requirements. FHJC is represented by Diane L. Houk and Debra L. Greenberger with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.