Suit Alleges Disability Discrimination by National Builder
AVR Realty Opts for Aesthetics Over Accessibility
On August 8, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Suzanne Vilchez, a paralyzed woman who uses a wheelchair, filed a lawsuit in federal court (S.D.N.Y.) alleging that a national housing developer, along with its architects and engineers, engaged in disability discrimination by failing to design and construct multifamily housing in New York in compliance with accessibility provisions of fair housing laws.
When asked by Ms. Vilchez why her newly constructed condominium was not accessible, sales representatives for AVR Realty allegedly told her that such features would “ruin the overall aesthetic” of the development.
AVR Realty, one of the named defendants, develops, constructs, owns, and manages apartment complexes and condominium buildings throughout the United States. Here in the New York City area, AVR Realty is currently developing and selling condominiums at Powell Cove, in the Queens neighborhood of College Point, and at Overlook Pointe, along the Hudson River in Dutchess County. Despite more than 45 years of experience developing housing in New York, the complaint alleges that AVR Realty has built and is continuing to build condominium units without incorporating accessible design features required by fair housing laws for over twenty years.
According to the complaint, testers sent by the FHJC to Powell Cove and Overlook Pointe found multiple design and construction violations. At these sites, the thresholds for front and patio doors are too high, bathroom walls are not reinforced to permit the installation of grab bars, interior doors are too narrow, thermostats are mounted too high, electrical outlets are mounted too low, and driveway access to ground floor units is too steep for someone using a wheelchair to use safely – all in violation of the fair housing laws. To add insult to injury, when asked by prospective buyers, AVR Realty refuses to build its units with these required features or requires buyers to pay the cost of retrofitting illegally constructed design features.
In addition to AVR Realty Company, LLC, the lawsuit names as defendants, AVR affiliated development companies, AVR-Powell C Development Corp., RPA Associates, LLC, and RPE Overlook Development Corp., as well as engineering firm, John Meyer Consulting, and architects, Miele Associates, LLP and Gary D. Canella Associates.
In commenting on the case, Attorney James Bahamonde stated, “The defendants have flagrantly violated the fair housing laws and disregarded Ms. Vilchez’s rights as a disabled person who uses a wheelchair.”
FHJC Executive Director Kumiki Gibson added, “It is reprehensible that a national builder of this size so blatantly ignored the fair housing laws. In this lawsuit, we are seeking justice for all people with disabilities, including Ms. Vilchez. A successful outcome of this case will expand housing opportunities available to people with disabilities by making housing accessible, just as the law intended.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to retrofit Powell Cove and Overlook Pointe and take other steps to ensure future compliance with fair housing laws, as well as monetary damages and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.