Saturday, June 13, 2015

Two Major NYC Housing Co-ops Agree To Settle Fair Housing Suits In Which Civil Rights Feds Alleged They Refuse To Make Make Reasonable Accommodations With Disabled Residents Needing Service Or Emotional Support Animals; One Outfit Attempted To Dodge Law By Imposing Unduly Burdensome Application Process, Requirements To Grant 'No-Pets Rule' Waiver

In separate announcements, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) announced settlements of civil rights lawsuits with two large New York City housing cooperatives, in which the Feds alleged that the co-ops failed to provide reasonable accommodations to its disabled residents who require service or assistance animals.

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USA v. Riverbay Corporation (aka "Co-op City") - according to the complaint filed in federal court:
  • RIVERBAY, located in the Bronx, New York, is the owner and operator of the largest affordable housing cooperative in the United States, with approximately 15,372 residential units and 60,000 residents. RIVERBAY has used an unlawful policy governing waivers to its no-pets rule to deny accommodation requests of persons with disabilities, and has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination toward persons with disabilities who request accommodations to its no-pets rule.

    Specifically, until December 2011, when RIVERBAY amended its policy and application governing reasonable accommodations, RIVERBAY’s application for requesting a reasonable accommodation to its no-pets rule consisted of five forms (including one required to be completed only in blue ink and another required to be typewritten), prohibited certain breeds of dogs, required animals to be neutered or spayed, imposed annual renewal requirements and required the applicant to provide his or her medical records. In December 2011 and again in July 2014, RIVERBAY amended its reasonable accommodation policy, but left in place many of the provisions in the first policy, including a prohibition against certain breeds of animals, a prohibition which RIVERBAY could waive based only on an applicant’s “medical need” for that particular breed.
For more, see Manhattan U.S. Attorney Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit Alleging Discriminatory Service Animal Policy At Largest Cooperative Development In The United States (Co-op City Agrees to Enhance Accessibility, Pay Civil Penalties and Establish an Aggrieved Persons Fund).

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USA v. East River Housing Corporation - according to the complaint filed in federal court:
  • EAST RIVER is a private 1,672-unit housing cooperative on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It has no written or established policies or procedures for making reasonable accommodations for individuals who require service or emotional support animals because of a disability. Complainants Amy Eisenberg, Steven Gilbert, and Stephanie Aaron, all EAST RIVER residents, each brought a dog into their apartments and sought to be permitted to keep those dogs as reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. EAST RIVER either denied the requests or failed to respond to them, and instead instituted eviction proceedings against each of the complainants in New York City Housing Court (“Housing Court”). The three residents then filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and/or the New York State Division of Human Rights, which in each case found reasonable cause to believe that EAST RIVER had violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant the requested accommodation, and in the case of Mr. Gilbert further found that EAST RIVER had retaliated against him for exercising his right to file a complaint. EAST RIVER elected to have the claims against it brought in federal court.

    The Government’s complaint alleges that EAST RIVER violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to make reasonable accommodations when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwellings, and by coercing, intimidating, threatening, and interfering with the exercise or enjoyment of a dwelling on account of a complainant’s having exercised his or her rights under the Act.

    The Government further alleged that EAST RIVER’s conduct constituted a pattern of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, and a denial to a group of persons of the rights granted by the Fair Housing Act.

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