ARCHITECT DEFENDANT PREVIOUSLY DISCIPLINED FOR ACCESSIBILITY VIOLATIONS
Yesterday, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court (EDNY) alleging disability discrimination in the design and construction of Astor on 3rd, a newly constructed 60-unit multi-family rental building in Astoria, Queens. The defendants named in the suit are architectural and engineering firm NY Building Associates Inc. (NYBA); architect/engineer Naresh Mahangu; building developer Developing NY State, LLC (DNYS); and property owner Third Street Equity, LLC.
The lawsuit is based on information obtained during a testing investigation conducted by the FHJC. According to the complaint, FHJC testers identified numerous features in the building that fail to meet accessibility requirements under federal, state, and local fair housing laws. The alleged violations include:
- entrances to several common areas, including the dog run, outdoor courtyard, roof terrace, and event space that are too steep;
- unit balconies with high thresholds and narrow doors;
- bedroom and bathroom doors that are too narrow;
- environmental controls that are too high;
- clear bathroom floor space that is too small; and
- no designated accessible parking spaces in the building’s garage.
“Newly constructed apartment buildings like Astor on 3rd have been required to comply with accessibility rules for design and construction since 1991,” stated FHJC Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali. “This is not new. Architects, designers, contractors, and developers need to comply with the rules from the beginning of their projects, or face the prospect of lawsuits and costly retrofits.”
She added, “The Astor on 3rd website states that the building ‘has been built to maximize luxury and functionality for every single resident.’ Apparently, persons with disabilities don’t count.”
The complaint notes that prior to his work on Astor on 3rd, Mr. Mahangu had been previously audited and disciplined by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) for multiple code non-compliances, including failing to comply with accessibility requirements for people with disabilities. Following the DOB audit, Mr. Mahangu‘s Professional Certification and certain DOB privileges were allegedly suspended in May 2019. However, Mr. Mahangu is currently once again actively registered as a Professional Engineer with the DOB and appears to be designing multiple new apartment buildings across New York City.
The FHJC’s investigation also revealed that despite this history, NYBA and DNYS have continued to use Mr. Mahangu as the architect of record for at least seven other multi-family residential development projects in New York City, according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Mahangu’s troubled history is a matter of public record,” stated FHJC Executive Director/General Counsel Elizabeth Grossman. “Developers who continue to hire disciplined and unlicensed architects undermine the laws’ goal of ensuring newly constructed housing is accessible and show a blatant disregard for disability rights.”
In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to end the discrimination, building retrofits to correct the inaccessible features, alterations in the design and construction of current and future developments with regard to accessibility, modifications of all non-compliant policies, and fair housing training for defendants and their agents and employees. The full complaint can be read here.
The FHJC is represented by Diane Houk and Nick Bourland of the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP. “For too long, developers and designers of multifamily housing in New York City have cut corners and prioritized their bottom line over the rights of New Yorkers with disabilities,” stated Mr. Bourland. “Through this suit, FHJC is sending a clear message to the industry: if you ignore fair housing laws and hire design professionals who have a reputation for ignoring accessibility requirements, you will be held accountable.”
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.