Real Estate Law

Federal Court Civil Rights Settlement Creates More Accessible Housing Opportunities

Building Developer Agrees to Accessibility Retrofits, Additional Inspections, and Fund to Compensate Aggrieved Persons; Suit Against Architect Goes Forward

The United States Departmentg of Justice has agreed to a settlement by consent decree of a federal civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging that Tower 31, a residential apartment building at 9 West 31st Street in Manhattan, is inaccessible to persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). In the settlement, developers TOWER 31, LLC and ATLANTIC 31st, LLC, agree to retrofit Tower 31 to remove obstacles to accessibility, allow inspections of a second building to ensure FHA compliance, create a fund to compensate aggrieved people, and pay a civil penalty of $35,000. The consent decree was approved on August 11 by U.S. District Judge Allison J. Nathan. The United States also sued COSTAS KONDYLIS & PARTNERS, LLP and ALAN L. GOLDSTEIN, the architects that designed Tower 31, and that case is still pending.

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said: “This settlement will not only make Tower 31 a more accessible housing option, but will also ensure that federal standards of accessibility are met in future buildings. We are pleased that Tower 31’s developers promptly recognized the need to provide accessible housing to all New Yorkers. This is the ninth case of this type brought in this district, and our Office will continue to vigorously enforce the laws in place to provide full access consistent with the law for New Yorkers with disabilities to New York City’s rental housing market.”

The United States’ suit alleges that Tower 31 was designed and constructed in violation of the design and construction provisions of the FHA, which requires that new multi-family housing complexes include certain features accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the Complaint, Tower 31, a 283-rental unit building located at 9 West 31st Street in Manhattan, has multiple inaccessible features, including high thresholds interfering with accessible routes, insufficient space within bathrooms and kitchens for people in wheelchairs, a lack of appropriate signage for people with visual impairments, and lobby features that cannot accommodate people using wheelchairs.

Inaccessible features at Tower 31 were first brought to the Government’s attention through testing performed by the Fair Housing Justice Center. The U.S. Attorney’s Office frequently relies on testers to determine whether property owners are engaging in discrimination on the basis of race, disability, or other protected characteristics, and frequently files lawsuits based on the results of such testing.

The claims against ALAN L. GOLDSTEIN and the architectural firm COSTAS KONDYLIS & PARTNERS, LLP were not resolved by the consent decree and will go forward. The Government seeks a court order enjoining the architects and their successors from designing multi-family housing without the accessibility features required by federal law. The Government also seeks, among other relief, damages for persons harmed by the architects’ unlawful practices, and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.

Aggrieved individuals may be entitled to monetary compensation from the fund created through today’s settlement. Aggrieved individuals may include those who were:

• Injured by a lack of accessible features at Tower 31;

• Discouraged from living at Tower 31 because of the lack of accessible features;

• Required to pay to have an apartment at Tower 31 made accessible,

• Prevented from having visitors because of a lack of accessible features at Tower 31; or

• Otherwise injured or discriminated against on the basis of disability as a result of the design or construction of Tower 31.

People who may be entitled to compensation should file a claim by contacting the Civil Rights Complaint Line at (212) 637-0840, using the Civil Rights Complaint Form available on the United States Attorney’s Office’s website, or 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

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