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Opening Acts: November 18, 2015

Settlement Creates More Accessible Rental Housing

U.S. Attorney and Durst Organization Reach Agreement

On November 17, 2015, Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that a federal disability discrimination case had been resolved against The Durst Organization and its affiliates and subsidiaries. The lawsuit alleged that Durst had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination by failing to design and construct rental apartment buildings in an accessible manner. An investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in 2006 yielded evidence of non-compliance at a Durst property, The Helena, and this information was provided to the Department of Justice for possible enforcement action.

Under the settlement, Durst will retain an accessibility consultant to ensure that future developments, such as the 2400-unit Halletts Point development in Queens and the 709-unit VIA 57th West development in Manhattan comply with the accessibility requirements under the federal Fair Housing Act. Durst also agreed to make extensive retrofits at The Helena and The Epic, two apartment buildings containing more than 1000 units, in order to make these buildings more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Durst also agreed to institute policies and training to ensure that its employees and agents comply with federal accessibility requirements. Finally, the settlement imposes a $55,000 civil penalty and establishes a settlement fund up to $515,000 to compensate aggrieved persons who may have been injured or discriminated against as a result of the lack of accessible features at properties constructed by Durst. Individuals who believe they may be entitled to compensation may file a claim by contacting the Civil Rights Complaint Line at (212) 637-0840 or by using a Complaint Form available on the U.S. Attorney’s website at http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/civilrights.html.

This is the ninth lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against real estate developers and architects who failed to design and construct new apartment buildings in New York City in compliance with federal accessibility requirements. All nine cases were prompted by FHJC testing investigations.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg praised US Attorney Bharara and his Civil Rights Unit and stated, “The enforcement action taken by the U.S. Attorney is not only creating more accessible housing but it is helping to change the culture of indifference within the building industry toward the rights of people with disabilities.” Freiberg added, “Accessible housing is a civil right and the consequences of non-compliance will continue to be very costly for those who persist in violating the law.”