Manhattan U.S. Attorney Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Major Real Estate Developers 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 RELATED COMPANIES, INC. (“RELATED”), 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 RELATED, along with its affiliates TRIBECA GREEN LLC and BPC GREEN LLC, and two architecture firms, ROBERT A. M. STERN ARCHITECTS, LLP, (the “STERN FIRM”) and ISMAEL LEVYA ARCHITECTS, P.C. (the “LEVYA FIRM”), designed and constructed One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green, two rental complexes in Manhattan with more than 750 units in total, in violation of the design and construction provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. These provisions of the Fair Housing Act have been in effect since March 1991. The suit further alleges that the inaccessible conditions at One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green demonstrate a pattern and practice of discriminatory conduct by RELATED, which may result in inaccessible conditions at RELATED’s numerous other rental properties in New York City and elsewhere, and that, unless RELATED’s discriminatory practices are enjoined, the inaccessible conditions at One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green will likely be repeated in current projects, including the Hudson Yards luxury rental complex development.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “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. 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.”
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint and public information:
RELATED is one of the largest developers of rental housing in New York City. In addition to One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green, RELATED has developed numerous other high-profile rental complexes in New York City, including MiMA, 1 MiMA Tower, The Caledonia, and The Tate. Since 2010, Related also has been a co-developer for the Hudson Yards complex in Manhattan, which is expected to include a mixed rental-condominium tower at 15 Hudson Yards.
RELATED has engaged in a pattern and practice of developing its rental properties without regard to their accessibility to people with disabilities. For example, at One Carnegie Hill, which is located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, RELATED designed and constructed a 475-unit rental complex with scores of inaccessible conditions, which include steps and 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. One Carnegie Hill was completed in 2006, 15 years after the accessible design and construction requirements in the Fair Housing Act came into effect.
Similarly, RELATED caused scores of inaccessible conditions at Tribeca Green, a 278-unit rental complex that RELATED designed and constructed in lower Manhattan. Those conditions include excessively high thresholds that interfere with accessible routes in the common areas and within individual units; bathroom fixtures that prevent installation of grab bars; doorways in the common areas that lack sufficient clearance; kitchens that lack sufficient width for maneuvering by people in wheelchairs; trash rooms that lack accessible hardware; 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. Tribeca Green was completed in 2005, 14 years after the accessible design and construction requirements in the Fair Housing Act came into effect.
To ensure that RELATED’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 RELATED from designing and constructing multi-family housing, such as 15 Hudson Yards, without the accessibility features required by federal law and requiring RELATED 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 RELATED’s unlawful practices, and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.
In addition, the United States asserts claims against the STERN and LEVYA FIRMS based on their inaccessible designs for One Carnegie Hill and Tribeca Green, respectively. Specifically, the United States seeks to enjoin these architectural firms 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, and Emily E. Daughtry are in charge of the case.