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“Accessibility in New Builds Is Not an Option, It Is the Law.”

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

January 2, 2024

FINAL SETTLEMENT REACHED IN DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT IN WESTCHESTER COUNTY

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced today that a $993,250 monetary settlement has been reached with Lighthouse Living LLC and related entities; Lighthouse Living Realty, LLC; J&J Management Services LLC; and Papp Architects, P.C.

 Originally filed on May 27, 2020, in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, the suit alleged that Defendants discriminated based on disability in the design and construction of three multi-family residential developments in Westchester County in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).

The lawsuit is based on the results of a testing investigation conducted by the FHJC in late 2018, which revealed that numerous features in One Dekalb, The Light House, and The Wood Works failed to comply with the Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law. Specifically, the investigation found that front entrances to the buildings were inaccessible or required extraordinary force to use, mailboxes were placed in inaccessible locations, common roof spaces had high thresholds or other barriers leading to them, bathrooms and kitchens lacked adequate clear floor space, walk-in closets within apartments were too narrow, and environmental controls and electrical outlets were placed in inaccessible locations.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Defendants agreed to settlement terms regarding retrofits of the subject properties, fair housing compliance, and reporting obligations. Specifically, the settlement requires Defendants to bear the costs of all individual dwelling unit and common use area retrofits, and that they complete all common-use retrofits within 180 days of the effective date of the settlement. In addition, Defendants agreed to make certain on-request retrofits in dwelling units within 14 days of a prospective resident’s request and to notify all current residents of a number of accessibility features available upon request.

Defendants also agreed to comply with the FHA and NYSHRL, and will adopt and distribute to all their employees an Equal Housing Opportunity Policy. Principals of Defendants will also attend fair housing trainings. Moreover, Defendants have committed to having an independent consultant review other covered projects to identify any deficiencies in their design and construction, which Defendants will be obligated to cure. The full settlement can be read HERE.

“It is critical that architects and developers follow the law to design and construct residential housing that is accessible to the entire community,” said Alice Reiter, who along with John R. Cuti and Mariann Meier Wang of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, represented the FHJC. “This substantial settlement – including a payment of nearly $1M, significant retrofits, and considerable injunctive relief – reflects the FHJC’s steadfast commitment to enforcing fair housing laws to eradicate discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

“Accessibility in new builds is not an option, it is the law. When architects and developers fail to follow the Fair Housing Act and design and construct inaccessible buildings, they are perpetuating a cycle that treats people with disabilities as less than and unwanted,” stated Cass Sicherer, the FHJC’s Disability Justice and Accessibility Legal Fellow. “This settlement, as part of our greater testing and enforcement of fair housing laws, demonstrates that we will continue to work to hold developers and architects responsible for design and construction violations.”

The FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.