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“An Ongoing Pattern of Unlawful Design and Construction”

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

February 20, 2024

FHJC FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST LONG ISLAND DEVELOPER FOR REPEATED DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION VIOLATIONS

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced it has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) alleging disability discrimination in the design and construction of both The Selby, a 6-story 237 unit building located in Westbury, and The Vanderbilt, a 6-story 195 unit building also located in Westbury. The defendants named in the suit are a number of entities comprising the Beechwood Organization, as well as the architects of the two properties.

The lawsuit is based on information obtained during testing investigations conducted by the FHJC. According to the complaint, FHJC testers discovered numerous violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) demonstrating that the defendants failed to design and construct multi-family dwellings in an accessible manner. The alleged violations include:

  • Balcony doorways that are too narrow to be accessible by an individual in a wheelchair;
  • Thresholds to balconies and bathrooms that are inaccessibly high;
  • Kitchens that lack adequate clear floor space;
  • Environmental controls, washing machine handles, and mailboxes that are placed in inaccessible locations; and
  • Refuse rooms that have inaccessible hardware.

“The Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law impose basic accessibility standards in the design and construction of new buildings. All buildings constructed since 1991 are subject to required accessibility standards. Developers, architects, designers, and contractors are not excused from following the law, and will be subject to lawsuits and costly retrofits when they fail to comply,” shared the FHJC’s Disability Justice and Accessibility Fellow Cass Sicherer.

They continued, “Both the Selby and The Vanderbilt demonstrate non-compliance with design and construction standards that have been required for over 30 years. It is evident that the Beechwood Organization has engaged in an ongoing pattern of unlawful design and construction of multi-family residential housing. The biggest developer in Long Island has inexcusably disregarded the rights of prospective residents with disabilities.”

The complaint notes that the inaccessible features in both The Selby and The Vanderbilt are similar, and that these similarities suggest that the Beechwood Defendants, their related entities, and the design professionals they engage have a regular practice of ignoring FHA and NYSHRL design and construction rules. In addition to The Selby and The Vanderbilt, the Beechwood Organization has developed at least four other multi-family residential properties in Nassau and Suffolk counties since 2018. By failing to design and construct multi-family housing in compliance with federal and state accessibility requirements, Defendants have denied housing to people with disabilities.

Through this lawsuit, the FHJC is seeking actual damages, punitive damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and injunctive relief in the form of remediations to ensure that the buildings are accessible. Additionally, FHJC is seeking a court-ordered injunction prohibiting Defendants from discriminating against persons with disabilities in the design and construction of all covered multi-family properties.

The lawsuit was filed on February 5, 2024. The full complaint, including the complete list of defendants, can be read HERE.

“We look forward to helping the FHJC to enforce fair housing laws and to make The Selby and The Vanderbilt available to all individuals,” stated attorney Alice Reiter. The FHJC is represented by Reiter, Alexander Goldenberg, and Jazly Liriano of the law firm Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

The FHJC’s investigations in this case were supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative – American Rescue Plan (PEI-ARP) 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 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 New York City and surrounding counties.