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Opening Acts: May 27, 2021

FHJC Alleges Disability Discrimination at New York City Assisted Living Program

FACILITY EXCLUDES PEOPLE WHO USE WHEELCHAIRS

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed a federal lawsuit alleging that an assisted living facility in Manhattan discriminates against people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

Defendant Vista on 5th Corporation owns and operates the Vista on 5th Assisted Living Program (formerly known as Lott Community Health Care), providing residential services to seniors, age 65 and older, who require some personal care services and assistance with daily activities.  The twelve-story facility is located at 1261 5th Avenue.

The lawsuit is the result of an FHJC investigation begun in 2019 during which undercover testers were repeatedly told that the testers’ elderly relatives who use wheelchairs would not be eligible for residence at Vista on 5th. Testers were also informed that none of the residents used a wheelchair. When asked to explain, the facility’s representative claimed that residents needed to be able to “self-evacuate in case of an emergency,” walking unassisted down many flights of stairs. One tester was incorrectly told that the self-evacuation rule was “mandated by the state, so we have to go by their guidelines, their rules and regulations.”

In fact, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement that residents of such facilities be able to evacuate their residences and descend stairs alone, without assistance, in case of emergency. On the contrary, 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.

The lawsuit alleges that Vista on 5th’s actions violate the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “Assisted living programs should be equally available to any elderly person who needs this type of housing and can benefit from the services being offered.  Discrimination based on disability is not only wrong, it violates fair housing and other civil rights laws.”

The lawsuit seeks elimination of the “no wheelchair” policy and revisions to Vista on 5th’s screening and admissions policies, along with damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination.

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