New York lawyers representing a group of seven tenants have filed a class action lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority, accusing the agency of “widespread and systemic failure to maintain the elevators in its buildings in operable working condition,” The New York Times and the New York Law Journal report.
The tenants allege that the Housing Authority’s behavior stands in violation of federal disability and human rights laws. Specifically, the tenants, most of whom have severely impaired mobility, complain that elevators in their buildings break too frequently and, when the elevators are broken, the Housing Authority provides no alternative transport or other assistance to disabled residents.
This is not the first time the Housing Authority has come under fire over the reliability of their elevators. This past August five-year-old Jacob Neuman fell 10 stories to his death after the elevator he was riding malfunctioned. The New York Times follow-up investigation, published last month, revealed a history of terrible injuries that have cost the city millions of dollars.
The Housing Authority has already pledged to improve the elevators, proposing an overhaul of its maintenance practices and pledging $107 million to replace 550 of its worst elevators over five years.
In the class action suit the tenants are not seeking damages but rather asking that the court order the Housing Authority to avoid excessive elevator breakdowns and provide disabled or elderly tenants assistance or other accommodations when there is an elevator outage. Even if the tenants get few concessions from the Housing Authority beyond its existing plans, a court order would help hold the agency to its plans and keep it on schedule.
Working with personal injury lawyers in New York, it is unusual to see a suit filed in anticipation of an accident but that is exactly what is happening here. If the tenants are successful, they may have done a tremendous favor for the Housing Authority.
The present conditions, with elderly and disabled residents struggling down many flights of stairs (some of these tenants are usually confined to wheelchairs!), are extremely dangerous. If an accident were to happen, as seems likely if current conditions persist, not only would it hurt the city financially but it would deal a palpable blow to the agency’s already-tarnished reputation.