Home Construction Feds sue apartment developer Peter Fine for handicap violations

Feds sue apartment developer Peter Fine for handicap violations

A federal prosecutor claims that Manhattan developer Peter Fine constructed 68 apartment buildings that are difficult to use by handicapped people, including two in Westchester.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman sued Atlantic Development Group LLC and Fine, the majority owner, Oct. 16 in federal court, Manhattan, for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.

Most of the buildings and the 6,000-some apartments are in the Bronx and Manhattan. But the lawsuit also identifies the LaPorte Apartments, 203 Gramatan Ave., Mount Vernon, and the Red Lion Apartments, 25 State St., Ossining, as deficient.

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Developer Peter Fine atop La Porte Apartments in Mount Vernon. Photo by Bill Heltzel

“We believe the case is without merit,” Lynn Calkins, a litigation attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of Holland & Knight, said behalf of Atlantic, “and the properties will be demonstrated to be in full compliance with federal laws.”

The structures were built from 2000 to 2019 and were intended mostly for low-income tenants.

Atlantic and Fine engaged in a pattern or practice of violating handicap access regulations, the complaint states, using six different architects to design the buildings.

The alleged violations were at entrances, in common areas such as laundry rooms and community rooms, and in individual apartments.

Some entrances, for instance, had high thresholds that impeded people in wheelchairs, according to the complaint. Handicap ramps didn’t have handrails on both sides. Open space in bathrooms was insufficient. Spaces between appliances on opposite sides of kitchens were not wide enough.

The Red Lion opened in 2013 and has 50 dwellings. The complaint describes 11 alleged violations, such as a high slope at the main entrance, bathrooms without toilet grab bars and a narrow aisle in the laundry room.

The LaPorte opened in 2017. The 14-story structure, next to Hartley Park in downtown Mount Vernon, has 159 apartments. The complaint does not list specific violations in that building.

The LaPorte “is by far the nicest workforce housing I’ve ever built,” Fine said during a topping out ceremony in 2016.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a related Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Atlantic in 2017. That case concerned two market-rate apartment buildings in Manhattan, but the complaint alluded to possible violations at other Atlantic projects in Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester.

That case is pending.

The government is asking the court to order Atlantic and Fine to stop violating handicap regulations and to retrofit structures that were not built properly.

The government’s case is being handled by assistant prosecutors Li Yu, Jacob Lillywhite, Steven Kochevar and Natasha Teleanu.

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