Handicap Lawsuit Could Cost Developers
The 1991 Fair Housing Act was created to establish national guidelines for building accessibility. But for years, developers in the city relied on a provision in the local building code from 1987 that they considered more stringent. The federal government disagreed, filing a lawsuit two years ago against developer AvalonBay, which is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The company has seven properties in the city, and one in particular on the Lower East Side was deemed insufficiently accessible.
AvalonBay has just settled the suit with the
government, spent $2.2 million to address current and future issues. The areas of greatest concern at the development in question, the Avalon Christie Place (the one with the Bowery Whole Foods), were the bathrooms and kitchens, which will get new fixtures, including smaller refrigerators, as well as the replacement of beveled molding between rooms. A reserve fund will be created to cover future concerns, as well.
The settlement has a number of New York developers worried that they could be next. The Journal says at least 10 builders are in negotatiations with the feds to work out the situation, “including such big names as Related Cos., the Durst Organization and Silverstein Properties, according to public documents. Two other developers, Larkspur LLC and Friedland Properties, are also close to an agreement, say people familiar with the matter.”
Some of these developers, which are much smaller than the national AvalonBay, worry that striking a deal could prove to be a burdensome expenditure for buildings that, if not technically compliant, are sufficiently accessible. At the very least it could mean more costly litigation. It is possible that any building built since the 1991 law took effect could be forced to retrofit.
This is not to say that this is not an important issue that should be addressed. New York City is notoriously unfriendly to the handicapped, with its narrow sidewalks, inaccessible subways and fifth-floor walkups. The real question is why developers or the city thought it was okay to rely on their own rules, as opposed to the fed’s