Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fair Housing Group Shakes $1.3M Out Of Developer, Its Architects & Engineers To Resolve Lawsuit Alleging Inadequate Wheelchair Access Throughout Two Multi-Family NYC-Area Residential Developments

In New York City, the Fair Housing Justice Center(1) reports:
  • On August 27, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood signed an order resolving a disability discrimination lawsuit involving the improper design and construction of two multi-family residential developments, Powell Cove Estates in Queens County and Overlook Pointe in Dutchess County.

    In August, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Suzanne Vilchez, a paralyzed woman who uses a wheelchair, filed a fair housing lawsuit. The complaint alleged 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 the accessibility requirements in fair housing laws.


    The lawsuit stemmed from a complaint FHJC received from Ms. Vilchez and the results of a FHJC testing investigation that identified multiple barriers to accessibility at Powell Cove Estates and Overlook Pointe. The investigation found inadequate wheelchair access throughout the residential developments including, but not limited to, thresholds for front and patio doors were too high, interior doors were too narrow, thermostats were mounted too high, electrical outlets were mounted too low, and ground floor unit driveways were too steep for someone using a wheelchair. Furthermore, because of the architectural barriers, Ms. Vilchez was unable to leave her home or traverse the residential development without the assistance of another person.

    The defendants will pay $900,000 to the plaintiffs for damages, attorney’s fees and the costs associated with retrofitting the apartment owned by Ms. Vilchez, as well as some common areas at Powell Cove. The settlement agreement also requires defendants to make retrofits to common areas at Overlook Pointe at their expense, and to adopt fair housing policies and attend fair housing training. In addition, defendants have agreed that the accessibility compliance at their future multifamily residential construction will be monitored by FHJC for four years.

    The FHJC will also receive $400,000 from defendants to establish an Accessibility Fund, which will be used to provide financial assistance to 1) income eligible homeowners and renters with physical disabilities seeking to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing and 2) unit owners with physical disabilities at Powell Cove who need accessibility modifications made to their units.

    The plaintiffs were represented by Diane L. Houk and Alison Frick of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.
Source: Disability Case Settles for $1.3 Million (Agreement Creates Accessibility Fund).

(1) The Fair Housing Justice Center, Inc. (FHJC) is a regional non-profit fair housing organization based in New York City. The FHJC provides a full-service fair housing program to New York City and the seven surrounding New York counties of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester.

According to its website, FHJC services are free of charge and available regardless of income to any individual or organization who believes has been discriminated against, or who has information that illegal discrimination is occurring. Due to limited resources, the FHJC is unable to assist everyone within its service area. If unable to provide the type of assistance that is needed, it will refer you to public fair housing enforcement agencies.

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