Developer settles claims HHP apartments not accessible

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It still seems achingly cryptic, whatever happened at Riverdale Parc.

The seven-story, 55-unit multifamily complex at 2727 Henry Hudson Parkway in Spuyten Duyvil opened just a few years ago. But apparently, someone made some big mistakes when it comes to ensuring the rental building complies with accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination, including because of disability.

And the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has since reached a settlement with the developers to increase accessibility for people with disabilities living not just at Riverdale Parc, but also at Bluestone Commons, their other property in Maybrook.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman first announced last December his office had settled its Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Webster AV Management, along with its subsidiaries and affiliates that own and operate Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons. Under the settlement, Webster agreed to make retrofits at both Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons — which together contain more than 120 apartments — in order to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. But Webster also agreed to establish procedures to ensure its future residential projects comply with FHA accessibility requirements.

Additionally the settlement requires Webster provide up to $105,000 to compensate what the U.S. Attorney’s office referred to as “aggrieved persons,” and to pay a civil penalty of $37,500.

“Aggrieved persons” include those discouraged from living at Riverdale Parc or Bluestone Commons because of lack of accessible features, officials said. It also could mean those who were hurt in any way by lack of accessible features, or who paid to have an apartment at either facility made more accessible. Or, anyone who “otherwise (was) discriminated against on the basis of disability” at either complex “as a result of inaccessible design and construction.”

Before the settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, federal prosecutors had obtained a court-ordered preliminary injunction in 2017 to ensure accessibility at two other rental complexes being developed in the Bronx, at 640 W. 238th St., and 3707 Blackstone Ave.

The FHA’s accessible design and construction provisions require new multifamily housing complexes constructed after 1991 to have basic features that disabled people are able to access, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. According to the prosecutor’s complaint, Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons were riddled with inaccessible features, including bedroom, bathroom and balcony doors that weren’t wide enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

But they also have what the U.S. Attorney’s office described as “excessively high thresholds” within individual units, thermostats and light switches located too high above the floors, and common area bathrooms that lack grab bars. In accordance with the settlement, Webster agreed to make retrofits to both public and common use areas, as well as individual units, to ensure Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons actually are accessible.

But the settlement also requires Webster to retain a consultant to assess design documents and call out any noncompliant conditions detected during site visits.  Additionally, Webster conceded to set in place policies and training to make sure its employees and agents also comply with FHA’s accessibility requirements.

Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons residents negatively affected by lack of accessibility there may be entitled to monetary compensation from the fund created through the settlement, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. The office’s civil rights unit is handling the case.

Riverdale Parc’s owner — identified as “HH Realty” by rental agent Allan Leeds — didn’t return multiple requests for comment.

Attorneys Mark Ginsburg and Steven Bagwin — counsel for the owners of Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons — couldn’t be reached for comment.

And Allen Herman — identified as attorney for HH Realty LLC, according to the property’s latest deed from 2012 — also didn’t return multiple requests for comment.

“Webster AV Management is dedicated to the principle of equal housing opportunity,” the company said in a notice to residents regarding retrofits for Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons — which must be scheduled within the next year. “We have agreed to modify, by varying degrees, certain apartments at Riverdale Parc and Bluestone Commons, to provide greater accessibility for people with disabilities.”

None of which would cost residents a penny, the company said. And if they have to move out temporarily, the owners vowed to pay “reasonable relocation and housing expenses” while modifications are made.

Deepening the mystery, however, it doesn’t appear the developers were grappling with unheard of rules or regulations.

“Federal regulations on accessibility have been around for more than 30 years,” Andrew Rudansky, spokesman for the city’s buildings department, told The Riverdale Press. “Licensed design professionals, who are hired for their expertise, should be familiar with all city, state and federal rules.”

The buildings department reviews construction plans for compliance with the city’s construction codes and zoning resolution, Rudansky said. Regarding accessibility, DOB reviews plans for compliance with a city building code that lays out its own technical reference standard.

A number of other laws and regulations exist at the federal level, which also must be complied with when applicable, including the 2010 Americans With Disabilities Standards for Accessible Design and Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, Rudansky added. In some instances, city accessibility codes are more stringent than the FHA. Law requires developers abide by the more stringent provisions.

“The Fair Housing Act’s accessibility provisions protect people with disabilities wherever they live,” Berman said, in a release, after the settlement was reached last December.

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