“No Different Than A ‘Keep-Out’ Sign”

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

August 9, 2022


On August 4, 2022 Federal District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis denied a motion to dismiss and allowed the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) to proceed with a federal lawsuit alleging that property owners 203 Jay St. Associates, LLC, Amtrust Realty Corp., and architectural firm Woods Bagot Architects, P.C. failed to design and construct a rental building in compliance with accessibility requirements under local, state, and federal fair housing laws.

Filed in March 2021, the complaint alleges a failure to comply with accessibility requirements in the design and construction of a 33-story, 270-unit residential rental building referred to as the 203 Jay Street Condominium (aka The Amberly), completed in 2019 and located at 120 Nassau Street in Brooklyn. An investigation by the FHJC identified numerous features in the building that are non-compliant, including a lack of a continuous accessible route into and through the apartments, as well as a lack of usable doors, kitchens, and bathrooms.

The Defendants sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that the FHJC lacked standing to bring claims and that the FHJC had failed to state a claim for relief. Judge Garaufis squarely rejected these arguments, allowing the case to move forward.

In the motion, the Defendants asserted that there had been no violation because no persons with disabilities had actually purchased or rented in the building. The judge flatly rejected this argument, stating “The FHA [Fair Housing Act] reflects the understanding that inaccessible design is itself an act of discrimination against disabled people – one that is no different than posting a ‘keep out’ sign.” Judge Garaufis further held that “a housing organization may allege discrimination on the basis of observing inaccessibility at dwellings that are held out for rent or sale.”

Judge Garaufis was similarly unconvinced by the Defendants’ claim that the complaint lacked specificity. “Plaintiff does not merely assert, without more, that there is inaccessibility present at the Condominium,” he wrote. “Rather, Plaintiff lays out specific allegations of architectural defects that are buttressed by the personal observations of testers and experts who are familiar with what constitutes an inaccessible condition.”

“These arguments were specious,” said FHJC Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali. “This motion is an example of the stalling tactics used by developers in the hopes that people with disabilities and nonprofit legal and civil rights groups like the FHJC will just go away.”

FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman added, “Rather than making weak assertions in court, the best way for developers and architects to avoid costly discrimination settlements and retrofits is to design and build their properties in compliance with accessibility requirements right from the start.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination, retrofits of the building to make it accessible, and other remedial action to ensure that future housing built by the defendants will be designed and constructed in compliance with fair housing accessibility requirements. The full text of Judge Garaufis’s decision is available HERE. The FHJC is represented by Glen H. Parker, Adam S. Hanski, and Robert G. Hanski with the law firm Parker Hanski LLC.

The FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported, in part or in whole, 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 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.