A White Plains housing cooperative and its property manager have agreed to pay $120,000 to a disabled man whose application for an apartment they rejected.
West-Ex Associates Inc., a property management company in Hartsdale, and 505 Central Avenue Corp., owner of Tompkins Manor, a 155-unit co-op in White Plains, settled a lawsuit on July 20 with the U.S. Attorney’s Office over violations of the Fair Housing Act.
The government sued the companies in January on behalf of Michael Forster, 34, of Port Chester, and a trust created by his parents.
The Forsters two years ago reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and HUD determined that there was reason to believe that Tompkins Manor had discriminated against them.
Michael Forster, according to the lawsuit, has congenital heart problems and has suffered multiple heart attacks. He has learning disabilities and bouts of depression. His abilities to work, drive or manage money are limited.
In 2005, his parents, Denis and Enid Forster, established an irrevocable trust to ensure that he could support himself even after their deaths.
In 2008, Forster moved from his mother’s home to a boarding house in White Plains that he shared with nine other residents. The house was infested with rodents, bedbugs and cockroaches, according to the lawsuit. There were frequent electricity outages, inadequate heat, no laundry facility and no elevator.
His parents sought better housing – a place close to shopping, a laundry, doctors’ offices and his mother’s home – to give him a measure of independence.
In 2013, a real estate broker found three available one-bedroom units in Tompkins Manor. The trust bid $76,000 for one of the dwellings and the seller accepted the offer.
A West-Ex employee rejected Forster’s application, stating that the co-op does not permit ownership by a trust. The family followed up with calls and letters. They noted that Denis Forster was willing to guarantee the financial obligation.
Attorney Steven Accinelli, according to the lawsuit, notified the Forsters by email that West-Ex and Tompkins Manor would not consider any accommodation for Michael Forster. He suggested that they try other co-ops and management companies.
The rejection devastated Forster.
“Michael grew increasingly depressed, as he realized that he would have to continue in the boarding house with its abysmal conditions,” the lawsuit states. “He became anxious that all cooperative buildings would treat him in the same manner.”
In the midst of looking for another place to live, Forster suffered a heart attack in 2014. He was hospitalized for a week. Convalescing in the boarding house, with no elevator to his floor, was out of the question, so he was released to his mother’s one-bedroom apartment.
Eventually, the Forsters bought an apartment in Port Chester. Though better than the boarding house, the lawsuit states, it had significant drawbacks in comparison with Tompkins Manor. It is not near a grocery store or other places that would be easy for Forster to get to, the lawsuit states, and it is farther away from his mother’s home.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim announced the civil rights settlement on July 21, the day after it was signed by federal Judge Nelson S. Roman.
According to the settlement:
• West-Ex and 505 Central Avenue Corp. agreed that they will not discriminate on the basis of a disability in the sale or rental of dwellings;
• They will not refuse to make reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities;
• They will adopt policies and guidelines for handling requests for accommodations by people with disabilities;
• They will conduct annual training for all employees on fair housing regulations; and
• They will keep records of any fair housing complaints for the next three years.
In addition to paying $120,000 to the Forsters, they must pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the government.
West-Ex also must provide reasonable accommodations to applicants to any cooperative, condominium board or property owner it represents.
If Forster tries to buy a unit in Tompkins Manor, West-Ex and 505 Central Avenue Corp. must consider his application and may not interfere with his rights under the Fair Housing Act.