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Opening Acts: October 16, 2020

Disability Discrimination Alleged at Brooklyn Apartment Building

OWNER AND MANAGER REFUSE TO MAKE MODIFICATIONS THAT WOULD PROVIDE ACCESSIBILITY TO TENANT WITH DISABILITIES  

On October 2, a lawsuit was filed in the New York State Supreme Court of Kings County alleging disability discrimination at an 82-unit apartment building in Brooklyn. The plaintiff, Ms. Junia Chapman, is a person with disabilities who has mobility limitations and uses a cane.  The lawsuit alleges that her landlord, 1834 Caton Partners LLC, and management company US Realty Corp, violated New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws by refusing to make certain modifications and provide a reasonable accommodation to afford Ms. Chapman an “equal opportunity to use and enjoy” her home.  Under both human rights laws, a person with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation (which can include changes to policies or practices as well as physical modifications of the structure) if the accommodation is necessary for the person to use the housing.  The housing provider must bear the cost for any modifications unless it is an unreasonable financial burden.   

In 2018, Ms. Chapman contacted the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) for help in requesting that her landlord make her building entrance accessible.  The building at 1834 Caton Avenue has a step in front of its entrance, staircases leading to the passenger elevators, and other impediments for people with disabilities. Because of these inaccessible features, Ms. Chapman is not able to leave her apartment without assistance or use the laundry and trash disposal facilities.  FHJC drafted a reasonable accommodation request letter which went unanswered.  After calling her landlord three months later to inquire about her request, she was told that a ramp would be installed. But after eight more months of inaction, she was informed in late July of 2019 that constructing a ramp was not feasible.

Using resources from its Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund,FHJC provided Ms. Chapman with an architect to do an independent feasibility study. The architect concluded that the accommodations Ms. Chapman was requesting were feasible, including the construction of a ramp to the building’s front entrance; a lift on the stairs leading to the building’s elevators; and a lever lockset on the building’s front door.

In May of 2020, with the assistance of her attorneys, Ms. Chapman sent another letter to her landlord, requesting these reasonable accommodations. Once again, she received no reply.

 “This case is important to me,” Ms. Chapman stated, “Because this is a situation I have struggled with for many years. My landlord repeatedly failed to make my building accessible to people like me.” She added “A lot of people might not know what the law is, or what their rights are. I believe that by bringing this case, I’m not only helping myself, but I’m also helping my neighbors who might be dealing with the same circumstances.” 

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated: “When a housing provider receives a request from a person with disabilities for a reasonable accommodation, the law requires that they enter into a dialogue with the person making the request and explore ways to remove any barriers. That did not happen in this case.”  Freiberg added, “Failing to provide a reasonable accommodation violates fair housing laws and constitutes unlawful discrimination based on disability.”      

Ms. Chapman is represented in the case by Tiffany Femiano, Cassandra Charles, Michael Pereira, and Tiffany A. Liston of Mobilization for Justice, Inc. (MFJ).

The mission of the 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.

The Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund was established by the FHJC in 2016 for the purpose of providing targeted financial assistance to benefit low and moderate income persons with disabilities who need reasonable modifications made to the housing they occupy to make it accessible.

FHJC’s assistance to the plaintiff 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).