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Clover Group settles fair-housing lawsuit for $7.1 million
Buffalo News - 8/11/2022
Aug. 11—A Clarence-based senior housing development group owned and led by businessman Michael Joseph has agreed to a $7.1 million civil rights settlement with a coalition of a dozen fair-housing organizations in six states over allegations of disability discrimination involving 50 properties.
Clover Group — a collection of entities under Clover Management — agreed to settle the lawsuit by Buffalo's Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) and partners in New York Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri.
"A denial of accessible housing is a denial of an individual's basic human rights," said M. DeAnna Eason, executive director of HOME, the only fair-housing organization in Western New York. "It is our hope that other developers and housing operators will see this case and work to ensure their properties do not discriminate against any potential tenant."
Joseph declined to comment on the allegations or lawsuit. "It was something we just decided to settle rather than litigate," Joseph said. "We did what we thought made sense."
Under the agreement, Clover will spend $6.3 million to improve handicapped accessibility at the senior housing properties, located across the Northeast and Midwest. That includes $3 million to retrofit public and common-use areas to make them more accessible for those with disabilities, such as providing routes for them around the exterior and common-use areas, adding ramps and curb cuts, and replacing sidewalks that have steep slopes.
It must also dedicate $3.375 million for modifications to individual apartments for any resident or applicant who asks, potentially including replacement of sliding patio or balcony doors to offer a wider opening and lower the threshold, or providing ramps at patio and balcony doors. It could also include grab bars, new bathroom vanities and sinks, roll-in showers or hand-held showers, lower kitchen countertops, or lower thermostats and light switches.
Both current tenants and new applicants must be told that funds are available for such modifications.
Clover Group also will pay the 12 fair-housing organizations $750,000 to compensate them for staff time and other resources that were used in investigating the alleged violations, and for legal fees for attorneys at law firm Relman Colfax and CNY Fair Housing, who represented the agencies. And any Clover employees involved in designing or building multifamily housing must be trained on the accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act.
"We also hope tenants hear about this and become more knowledgeable on their rights and responsibilities as home-seekers," Eason added.
Federal law requires that all multifamily housing buildings with at least four units that were built since March 13, 1991, must be accessible to those in wheelchairs or with other physical disabilities. That includes requirements for accessible routes and maneuvering space in bathrooms and kitchens.
But the coalition of agencies — which also includes CNY Fair Housing — found violations of those requirements during a multiyear joint investigation, and sued Clover in March in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Besides HOME, the coalition includes CNY Fair Housing, which handles 17 counties of Central and Northern New York, as well as agencies in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, central Indiana, Western Pennsylvania and all of Kentucky. Several are also suing Clover in a separate but related lawsuit alleging that the companies discriminated "by refusing to grant reasonable accommodations and imposing a surcharge for units in accessible locations."
"For housing to be accessible, it must be free from barriers," said HOME Associate Director Daniel Corbitt, citing both physical and rules or practices. "This case sends a clear message that housing providers cannot ignore their legal obligations to remove such barriers and ensure that all people have equal housing opportunities regardless of their disability status or any other protected class."
Founded by Joseph in 1987, Clover operates both construction and property management divisions, and partners with investors on many of its projects. The company owns 65 to 70 properties overall.
In Western New York, those include the Brighton Square Senior Apartments in Tonawanda, Crestmount Square Senior Apartments in Tonawanda, Jill Joseph Tower Senior Apartments in Buffalo, Lancaster Commons Senior Apartments in Lancaster, Orchard Place Senior Apartments in Lackawanna, Sandra Lane Senior Apartments in North Tonawanda, Seneca Pointe Senior Apartments in West Seneca, South Pointe Senior Apartments in Hamburg, Sweet Home Senior Apartments in Amherst, Transit Pointe Senior Apartments in East Amherst and Union Square Senior Apartments in West Seneca.
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