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Opening Acts: October 21, 2020

US Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

DEVELOPER REQUIRED TO INCREASE ACCESSIBILITY IN 71 BUILDINGS ENCOMPASSING MORE THAN 6,000 APARTMENTS

On October 15, U.S. District Judge Lewis J. Liman approved a settlement in a fair housing case brought by Department of Justice on behalf of the United States. The Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that they settled two related federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) lawsuits against ATLANTIC DEVELOPMENT GROUP, LLC (“ATLANTIC”). Under the settlement, ATLANTIC agreed to make retrofits at 71 rental buildings in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Westchester County, which together contain more than 6,000 affordable units as well as several hundred market-rate apartments. ATLANTIC also agreed to provide $600,000 to compensate aggrieved persons and pay a $30,000 civil penalty.

According to the allegations in the complaints in the two FHA cases, a recurring pattern of inaccessible conditions exists at ATLANTIC’s rental buildings, including excessively high thresholds at building entrances and entrances to common use areas, ramps that lack handrails on both sides, common use bathrooms that lack grab bars and pipe insulation, excessively high thresholds at entrances to individual apartments and within the apartments, and bathrooms in individual apartments that lack sufficient clear floor space for people who use wheelchairs. An investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in 2006 yielded evidence of noncompliance at a building located at 33 West End and this information was provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for possible enforcement action.  The Department expanded their investigation to investigate other properties owned by the defendant. 

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “The Fair Housing Act protects people with disabilities from being treated as second-class citizens when it comes to housing. This right applies equally to residents in affordable housing as to those living in luxury high-rises. Today’s settlement is part of this Office’s long-standing effort to fulfill the FHA’s promise of accessibility for people with disabilities and a reminder to real estate developers that we will continue to enforce the FHA’s accessibility requirements vigorously.”

Under the settlement, ATLANTIC agreed to make retrofits to the public and common use areas as well as the individual units at its 71 rental buildings to improve accessibility at those buildings. The settlement also requires ATLANTIC to establish procedures to ensure FHA compliance at its future development projects, and to institute policies and training to ensure that its employees and agents will comply with the FHA’s accessibility requirements.

The $600,000 fund will be used to compensate aggrieved persons who may be entitled to monetary compensation.  Aggrieved individuals may include those who:

  • Were discouraged from living at one of Atlantic’s rental buildings because of the lack of accessible features;
  • Have been hurt in any way by the lack of accessible features at one of Atlantic’s rental buildings;
  • Paid to have an apartment at one of Atlantic’s rental buildings made more accessible to persons with disabilities; or
  • Otherwise were discriminated against on the basis of disability at one of Atlantic’s rental buildings as a result of inaccessible design and construction.

Any individual who may be entitled to compensation can file a claim using the Complaint Form available on the U.S. Attorney’s Office website at http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/civilrights.html, or by sending a written claim to:

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York
86 Chambers Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10007
Attention: Chief, Civil Rights Unit

The case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Unit including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Li Yu, Jacob Lillywhite, Steven Kochevar, and David J. Kennedy.

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.

FHJC’s investigation 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).