News and Press Releases

United States Files Civil Suit Against Long Island Co-op for Violating Fair Housing Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2012

Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, today announced the filing of a federal civil rights complaint against the Woodbury Gardens Redevelopment Company Owners Corporation (“Woodbury Gardens”) for violations of the Fair Housing Act. Woodbury Gardens is a 214-unit cooperative residential complex for senior citizens located in Woodbury, New York. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires residential property owners to make reasonable accommodation to allow people with disabilities and their families to use and enjoy their homes.

According to the government’s complaint, Woodbury Gardens discriminated against Sandra Biegel, a now-deceased disabled senior citizen, by refusing to make reasonable accommodation for her multiple disabling conditions, including severe respiratory problems, depression, anxiety, cirrhosis, diabetes and decreased vision and hearing. In particular, the complaint alleges that Woodbury Gardens refused to waive its no pet policy to allow Ms. Biegel to keep her pet comfort animal, a miniature schnauzer, despite medical documentation from four of Ms. Biegel’s health care providers attesting to her need for the animal in coping with her disabilities. Woodbury Gardens is alleged to have threatened Ms. Biegel and her husband with eviction and fines, which forced her to give up the animal. Ms. Biegel died a few weeks later. The complaint alleges that even after the death of Ms. Biegel, Woodbury Gardens pursued Mr. Biegel for legal fees and fines, which he paid. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief requiring Woodbury Gardens to bring its practices into compliance with the Fair Housing Act, as well as damages to compensate Ms. Biegel’s estate and her husband for the harm caused by defendant’s discriminatory practices.

“Our seniors with disabilities want what all seniors want -- to live with dignity, maintain mobility, and retain their connections to the world. Comfort animals play an essential role in helping disabled seniors do just that. Sadly, Mrs. Biegel’s final days were bereft of this vital assistance, due to the actions, as alleged, of the defendant. Under the Fair Housing Act, individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation, and this includes the right, where appropriate, to have a comfort animal reside with them,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Building owners or co-op boards that fail to respect the rights of individuals with disabilities will be held to account for their failure to comply with the law.”

Kevan Cleary, Senior Trial Counsel, is litigating this case on behalf of the United States.



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