Wheelchair accessibility violations bring luxury buildings under scrutiny

| March 19, 2017

Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor has sued a leading New York City developer for violating wheelchair accessibility regulations. According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, developer Related Companies has failed to make two of its buildings compliant with the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the developer announces a deadlock, the lawsuit forbids the company from carrying out work on further projects until the violations are rectified.

750 units flout accessibility norms

The buildings in question — One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green — have been found to be in violation of wheelchair accessibility regulations. More than 750 units in the two luxury housing complexes have inadequately-designed common areas, inaccessible electrical outlets and trash rooms, and narrow kitchens.

“We will not allow developers and architects who deprive people with disabilities of accessible housing to evade the consequences of their failure to comply with clear, long-standing federal civil rights laws,” Bharara said in a release following the civil rights lawsuit. “When developers demonstrate an unwillingness to design and construct accessible housing in accordance with federal law, this Office will not hesitate to use its enforcement tools to compel the developers to make both their preexisting and future constructions accessible.”

Building with accessible lift

This building has a lift offering easy wheelchair accessibility for people with disabilities. From I See Modern Britain.

New lawsuit follows the line of similar violations

Several other developers have been targeted in the past for discriminating against people with disabilities. In 2008, the US Attorney’s office sent letters to dozens of Manhattan developers and architects warning them to renovate their buildings per ADA specifications or face litigation.

The list included developers Related, Durst, Rose, Rockrose, and Silverstein, among others. The letters mentioned common issues like the narrow width of doors and entryways, size and set-up of kitchen and bathrooms and numerous features in the lobbies and common areas. Additionally, building walls were not reinforced, which meant tenants could not install grab bars to hoist themselves out of a tub.

Three years after the warning letters were sent, developer Friedland Properties and its architects, Costas Kondylis & Partners. reached a settlement with the government to compensate individuals affected by the lack of accessible features. The compensation also brought to light 100,000 other properties in violation of the federal law across the city.

Wheelchair accessibility codes for buildings

The ground-breaking legislation of 1988 compels city developers to meet Fair Housing Act federal requirements. The New York City Building Code 1107 establishes “coordination with the federal law of Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Local Law 58 of 1987 (LL58/87).”

Although the Fair Housing Act is not enforced by the Department of Buildings and is not reflected in the current city building code, many multiple dwellings in the city are subjected to it. Developers and landlords of multiple units claim that compliance with Local Law 58 also makes their buildings compliant with Fair Housing Act standards.

Edward M. Schulman, general counsel for AvalonBay Communities (that was issued a lawsuit in 2008), says, “Our buildings have been constructed in compliance with New York City’s Local Law 58. We are at a loss to understand why the federal government is suddenly viewing New York City’s Local Law 58 as deficient and unsatisfactory.”

Related Companies has responded with a statement disagreeing with the federal lawsuit.

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Category: ADA

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