Manhattan U.S. Attorney Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Major Real Estate Developer And Architects To Remedy Pattern And Practice Of Inaccessible Design And Construction Of New York City Apartment Buildings
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging that THE DURST ORGANIZATION, INC. (“DURST”), a major real estate developer based in New York City, has engaged in a pattern and practice of developing rental apartment buildings that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The suit alleges that DURST, along with its affiliate THE HELENA ASSOCIATES, LLC, and the architecture firm, FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS, P.C., designed and constructed the Helena, a Manhattan building with 595 rental apartment units, in violation of the design and construction provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. The relevant provisions of the Fair Housing Act have been in effect since March 1991, and the Helena was built in 2005. The suit additionally alleges that, as evidenced by the inaccessible conditions at the Helena, DURST engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminatory conduct, which may result in inaccessible conditions at DURST’s other rental properties in New York City, and that unless DURST’s discriminatory practices are enjoined, the inaccessible conditions at the Helena will likely be repeated in current projects, including rental complexes at 855 Avenue of the Americas and on West 57th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “This is now the eighth lawsuit we have filed in recent years to address the failure of real estate developers in New York City to comply with the law. Today’s lawsuit demonstrates our continued commitment to ensuring that the long-established federal laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities to accessible housing are enforced. Developers and architects who show an unwillingness to design and construct housing that complies with the law can no longer seek to evade the consequences of their actions.”
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint and other information in the public record:
DURST has been involved in real estate development in New York City for decades. In addition to The Helena, DURST has developed several other multi-family dwellings in Manhattan, including The Epic in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, 1214 Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, and several buildings along Front Street in Lower Manhattan.
DURST has engaged in a pattern and practice of developing its rental properties without regard to their accessibility to people with disabilities. For example, at The Helena, which is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, DURST designed and constructed a complex, which contains 595 rental apartment units and public and common use areas, with scores of inaccessible conditions. These conditions include excessively high thresholds that interfere with accessible routes in the common areas and within individual units, kitchens that lack sufficient width for maneuvering by people in wheelchairs, electrical outlets and mailboxes that are not fully usable by people in wheelchairs, and bathrooms that lack sufficient clear floor space for people in wheelchairs to maneuver.
To ensure that DURST’s current and future residential housing developments are accessible to people with disabilities and to redress its history of non-compliance with the Fair Housing Act, the United States seeks a court order enjoining DURST from designing and constructing multi-family housing, such as 855 Avenue of the Americas, without the accessibility features required by federal law and requiring DURST to retrofit the inaccessible conditions at all the rental properties it has developed to make them accessible. The United States also seeks damages for persons harmed by DURST’s unlawful practices, and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.
In addition, the United States asserts claims against FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS, P.C., based on their inaccessible designs for The Helena. Specifically, the United States seeks to enjoin FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS, P.C., from designing multi-family housing without the accessibility features required by federal law, as well as damages for persons harmed by their inaccessible designs and civil penalties.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Li Yu, Carina H. Schoenberger, Emily E. Daughtry, and Jessica Jean Hu are in charge of the case.