DIRECT AGGRESSIVE ADVOCACY

Are Disability Rights Being Violated in NYCHA Buildings?

January 26, 2020

Are Disability Rights Being Violated in NYCHA Buildings?

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) provides housing to low-income tenants. As one of the biggest housing authorities in the US, the agency oversees 326 public housing developments across the City’s five boroughs. With more than 2,600 buildings throughout the city, the agency handles the maintenance of 3,300 elevators.

NYCHA however has a history of neglecting its developments. Many of its residents have spoken out at one time or the other, berating the agency for its shortcomings. Currently, it is facing a $2.2 billion claim brought by relatives of a family of six that died in fire in one of the agency’s buildings.

Sadly, the pattern of neglect being alleged is not new. In 2012, NYCHA was forced to settle a class action lawsuit brought against it. The lawsuit alleged that NYCHA had failed to repair malfunctioning and broken elevators in the buildings. The agency, which provides  housing facilities for more than 400,000 New Yorkers, was alleged to be in violation of several legal provisions. These provisions especially concerned the protection of the rights of people with disabilities.

The class action lawsuit, filed in 2009, claimed that there was a “widespread and systemic failure to maintain the elevators in [NYCHA] buildings in operable working conditions”. Since many disabled tenants rely on the elevators to get to their apartments, the lawsuit also alleged that the city was in violation of the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It is important to emphasize that the provisions of the ADA are obligations that must be carried out. People with disabilities also have rights and it is the duty of the housing agency to do all that is within its power to see that the rights are given effect. This means if you are a person living with disabilities and you believe that your rights have not been protected, you have a right to sue.

At Oshan and Associates, we have a long and proud history of standing up for the little guy. We understand that the size and resources of massive agencies and corporations like NYCHA can unfairly skew your chances of holding them to account. This is why we specialize in helping out-manned and out-resourced clients like you punch above their weight. We stand ready to help you find the justice you deserve.

Who is considered a Person with Disabilities?

A disabled person,  as defined by the ADA is any person who has a physical or mental impairment that limits major life activities. Such impairments include mobility, hearing and visual impairments or chronic mental illness. If these impairments limit primary functions like talking, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks or caring for oneself, then they are disabled.

It is obligatory on public housing agencies, to provide “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities. This means that they are expected to take reasonable steps to try and make their lives easier. This includes policy or service changes that allow disabled persons enjoy amenities same as non-disabled persons. For instance, providing opportunities to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common area same as non-disabled.

One of the primary areas in which reasonable accommodation is expected to be provided concerns elevators. This is so because of the vital nature of elevators to access to building, especially in high-rise buildings.

Code Requirements for Elevators

Minimum standards have been set by law for the protection of people with disabilities. These laws ensure that any person with disabilities have equal access to certain infrastructures as with non-disabled persons. They also guarantee that buildings are designed with the disabled person in mind.

The American Disabilities Act

The ADA was enacted as a federal law in 1990 and made applicable throughout the United States. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against any person with disabilities in all areas of public life. These include jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

The law stipulates that people with disabilities must be given the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. As such, the ADA protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.

It particularly guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodation and employment. It ensures that they do not have undue difficulty with accessing transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

Title III of the ADA specifically prohibits discrimination by private entities that operate places of public accommodation. The Act also applies to all newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation and commercial facilities.

The American Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines

In 2004, the U.S. Access Board published new design guidelines that cover access for people with disabilities under the ADA. The guidelines are to be used as standards to enforce the ADA and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA).

These guidelines, made after due reviews, update access requirements for facilities in public and private sectors. The guidelines also contain provisions to ensure adequate access in new construction and alterations. Particularly, scoping provisions containing technical specifications and how to meet ADA requirements were also included in the guidelines.

Highlights of ADA Requirements and Guidelines for Elevators

The ADA requirements for elevators are found in Section 407 of ADA. Section 206 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines provide detailed standards that have to be adhered to. Private buildings that are less than three floors are exempted from the requirements. These buildings, as specified by the ADA, do not have to provide an elevator unless they are a shopping center, professional office or other specified type of use.

For residences like those operated by NYCHA, the following requirements will apply in cases of construction or new alteration.

Provision for Elevators

Every building must have at least one fully functional passenger elevator to meet the ADA’s accessibility requirements. This is meant to ensure access to buildings for individuals with physical disabilities.

Elevator Size

Elevators must conform to set dimensions so wheelchairs can enter and maneuver with ease. The minimum width of the elevator door should be 36 inches. The depth of the car must be at least 51 inches and its width must be at least 68 inches.

Placement and Operation of Elevators

To meet the ADA elevator requirements, elevators must be easily accessible to visitors and be in a public place. That means the elevators have to be placed in areas that are easily accessible. Installation in out-of-the-way hallways will violate the ADA and guidelines. Even if the elevator meets the minimum required dimensions, it will still be in violation of the ADA.

The elevator door must remain fully open for at least three seconds in response to a call. There should be visible and verbal signals to show which elevator is available, its direction, and when it has reached a designated floor.

The elevator must also be self-leveling. This means that the elevator must automatically raise its floor to be on the same level with the floor on which it is stopping. This is to ensure that wheelchairs and other walking equipment can easily enter and exit the elevator.

Specifications for Elevator Buttons

The buttons inside and outside the elevator must meet the specifications required for people with disabilities. For instance, all buttons with numbers must be in ascending order. Also, for ADA compliance, call buttons must be either raised or flush and must be at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Also, Raised and Braille designations must be placed to the left of the control button.

The elevator button height must be centered 42 inches from the floor. The call buttons should also readily show the direction in which the elevator is traveling. To be certified ADA-compliant, the elevator must stop at any floor with the simple press of a button.

Other Specifications for ADA-Compliant Elevators

There are several other specifications required of elevators in NYCHA buildings. One of these is that the floors must be slip-resistant. If the floor of the elevator is carpeted, the carpet must be firmly attached.

Equally important, emergency communications must be present and within reasonable reach of disabled passengers in the elevator. This is relevant in instances when the car stops mid-journey and passengers need to call for help.

Obligations of NYCHA to People with Disabilities

Yet NYCHA has been alleged to have failed in its obligations under the ADA, at least once in the past. A  class action lawsuit settled in September 2012, forced NYCHA to repair malfunctioning and broken elevators in its buildings.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009, highlighted the fact that there was a widespread and systemic failure of elevators in NYCHA buildings. The suit claimed that the city violated the requirements specified in the ADA since they deprived many disabled tenants of elevator use.

One of the plaintiffs in the case suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to an electric wheelchair. The plaintiff had stated that none of the elevators in her building worked for a period of three days. On some occasions, the default in the elevators rendered her stranded outside of her building for most of the night.

Another plaintiff had suffered from a stroke to her left side and was confined to a wheelchair. She stated that she was forced to walk down 18 flights of stairs with the help of an aid to meet up with a doctors’ appointment.

Due to the serious allegations in the lawsuit, NYCHA was forced to reach an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs. Even though this settlement did not include monetary payment, it mandated the agency to constantly repair and keep its elevators in operable condition.

An important part of the settlement gave disabled residents the privilege to request to be moved to a lower floor. This would help reduce the impact on them in the event of another elevator outage.

The settlement also required NYCHA to repair 70 percent of elevator outages within eight hours of being reported. Additionally, the acceptable number of citywide outages imposed was a maximum of one outage per elevator, per month.

Lessons Have Not Been Learned by NYCHA

Despite the express provisions of the ADA, NYCHA buildings have failed to be fully compliant. Another lawsuit filed against the agency in June last year alleged “gross mismanagement” of its buildings by NYCHA. The City had to settle the lawsuit for a combined sum of $2 billion.

Before settlement, the lawsuit exposed the “disastrous human toll” that had resulted from NYCHA’s neglect. The agency was not only on the book for weighty violations of health and safety codes, it was also alleged to have intentionally covered up the facts.

The recent claim by the relatives of the Pollidore family of six that died in a NYCHA building earlier this year, shows the neglect continues. The family had died in a blaze that spread rapidly, cutting off any escape from the apartment. Help thus arrived too late.

Steps to Take if Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you are a resident of a NYCHA building and you believe that your rights have been violated, there are options open to you. You can either take the administrative route through NYCHA’s process or contact a qualified lawyer to guide you through. These are the recognized steps involved in NYCHA’s process:

First Step

Write a grievance letter to the manager requesting a meeting. The manager will then schedule a meeting with you to address your grievances. Any evidence that you may have to aid your complaint will also be relevant.

After this meeting with the manager, the NYCHA will send you a Grievance Summary that contains the response of the manager. If you don’t receive a response or if your grievances are still unattended to, you may then proceed to the second step.

Second Step

Within 10 (ten) days of receiving the grievance summary, you are to send a letter to the Borough Management Office (BMO).

This letter will contain a request for review of the grievance summary. Also, in the letter to the BMO, you must state the reason for the grievance and you suggested solutions.

You may also request for a physical meeting if you so wish. The Borough Management Office, after a review of your letter, will send you a written decision.

Third Step

The next step after this requires you to request a hearing within 10 days of the decision of the BMO. A restatement of the reasons for your grievance and the solutions you suggest must be put into writing and submitted to the building management.

After the NYCHA has scheduled an appointment with you, the Hearing Officer will then send a decision on their findings within 4-6 weeks of the hearing.

What If You Lose the Borough Management Office Hearing?

This is where it gets tricky, especially for complainants who have been communicating with NYCHA without a skilled attorney.

If you lose the hearing of NYCHA, the agency will most likely file a holdover case against you in Housing Court for eviction. It must also be noted that the Housing Court judge cannot overturn the decision of NYCHA.

Fighting the Eviction Proceeding

If NYCHA has commenced an eviction proceeding against you, you can fight this by filing an ‘Article 78 Proceeding’ within 4 months of the decision. This proceeding is held in the New York State Supreme Court.  Consult an attorney for detailed information on how to fight an eviction.

Injury Suffered Due to Elevator Malfunction

Maintenance of buildings and elevators is a duty imposed on NYCHA. Unfortunately, many tenants of NYCHA structures, especially individuals with disabilities, continue to experience avoidable difficulties.

If NYCHA fails within specified time to conduct repairs on their buildings, they can be held liable. If they do not shovel snow and ice, provide adequate lighting and other safety measures, you can file a claim for negligence if you suffer injury.

The first course of action after suffering an injury due to elevator malfunctions in your NYCHA apartment is to contact a skilled and experienced attorney. An New York City premises liability lawyer will provide the guidance you need in your case against the New York City Housing Authority.

Injury Due to Negligence

Negligence of duty is an important element that has to be proved in your NYCHA case. To hold the NYCHA accountable, you have to prove they are aware or must have been aware of the dangerous condition of the elevators. A letter of grievance written to the manager may suffice as evidence of ‘knowledge’.

Injury as a Result of Violation of a Code

You can also show that the agency has violated building codes and provisions of the ADA. This procedure is more serious than that of ‘mere’ grievance. Your attorney, in this instance, will be tasked to prove that your injury was due to a violation of codes or guidelines that are binding on the NYCHA.

The Next Line of Action

If you or any of your loved ones have suffered injury in NYCHA buildings, get in touch with us today. Lawyers at  Oshan and Associates have the experience and are well-equipped with the resources to help you fight for justice. Fill our contact form for a  free consultation here or call us today on (206) 335-3880 or (646) 421-4062.



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