U.S. Attorney Files Civil Rights Suit Against National Developer To Remedy Pattern And Practice Of Inaccessible Construction Of Rental Buildings
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against EQUITY RESIDENTIAL and its affiliate ERP OPERATING L.P. (together, “EQUITY RESIDENTIAL”) to require them to remedy conditions at 170 Amsterdam Avenue, a large rental complex in Manhattan that was completed in 2015, to make the building accessible to people with disabilities and to ensure that EQUITY RESIDENTIAL will take steps to make accessible the multiple rental complexes that it is currently developing.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “With today’s lawsuit, we seek to ensure that a national developer, Equity Residential, not only will fix the inaccessible conditions at 170 Amsterdam Avenue, but also do what is necessary to ensure accessibility at its ongoing construction projects. This is one of more than a dozen suits this Office has brought in recent years to fulfill the Fair Housing Act’s promise of accessibility for people with disabilities.”
The Fair Housing Act’s (“FHA”) accessible design and construction provisions require multifamily housing complexes constructed after January 1991 to have basic features accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the allegations in the Complaint, EQUITY RESIDENTIAL has engaged in a pattern and practice of FHA violations by designing and constructing numerous rental buildings that contain inaccessible conditions, including 170 Amsterdam Avenue as well as earlier constructions like the 1210 Mass Apartments in Washington, D.C., and The Veridian in Silver Spring, Maryland.
According to the Complaint filed today in Manhattan, in 2015, EQUITY RESIDENTIAL designed and constructed 170 Amsterdam Avenue, a 236-unit rental complex on the upper west side of Manhattan, with inaccessible conditions similar to those present at the 1210 Mass Apartments and The Veridian. As alleged, the inaccessible conditions at 170 Amsterdam Avenue include excessively high thresholds from individual apartments to private gardens, insufficiently wide doorways within individual apartments, and insufficient clear width at the entrance to the on-site fitness center. The Complaint also alleges that EQUITY RESIDENTIAL currently is actively involved in designing and constructing several other rental buildings, including in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
In the Complaint, the United States seeks a court order requiring EQUITY RESIDENTIAL to make appropriate retrofits at 170 Amsterdam Avenue and to take steps necessary to ensure that the rental buildings EQUITY RESIDENTIAL is currently developing will be designed and constructed in compliance with the FHA’s accessibility requirements.
EQUITY RESIDENTIAL was previously sued in 2006, in Maryland, for not complying with the FHA in constructing rental buildings like the 1210 Mass Apartments and The Veridian. In March 2016, the court presiding over the Maryland lawsuit issued a decision finding that EQUITY RESIDENTIAL had violated the FHA’s accessibility requirements in constructing seven rental buildings, including the 1210 Mass Apartments and The Veridian. In December 2016, EQUITY RESIDENTIAL settled the Maryland lawsuit and agreed to remedy inaccessible conditions at the 1210 Mass Apartments and The Veridian and the other five rental buildings. However, the settlement of the Maryland lawsuit did not address the lack of accessible features at 170 Amsterdam Avenue, which was designed and constructed even while the Maryland suit was pending.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Li Yu, Jacob Lillywhite, Jessica Jean Hu, and Natasha Teleanu are in charge of the case.