NYLAG’s Special Litigation Unit joined with co-counsel from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (Paul Weiss) to file a class action lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for its failure to repair and maintain its 3,300 elevators in its public housing apartment buildings. Filed in the United States Court for the Eastern District of New York on April 21st, Brito vs. NYCHA was brought on behalf of more than 7,000 low-income NYCHA residents with serious mobility impairments.

“For people with disabling mobility impairments, broken elevators are more than an inconvenience – they deprive residents of the full use and benefit of their homes,” said Jane Greengold Stevens, NYLAG’s Director of Litigation. Ms. Stevens further explained that the named plaintiffs suffer from conditions such as cerebral palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic asthma, which make it near impossible for them to move without the help of handicap equipment such as wheelchairs or walkers.

Brito vs. NYCHA challenges widespread and systemic failure to maintain elevators in operable working condition. Citing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and New York State and New York City Human Rights laws, the lawsuit accuses NYCHA of denying people with disabilities the full use of their homes. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction ordering NYCHA to maintain its elevators by repairing, modernizing, and where necessary, replacing them. They also demand provision of accommodations for disabled residents when elevators are not working.

NYLAG and Paul Weiss are working closely with Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer to identify residents most affected by this elevator issue. In 2008, Borough President Stringer’s office studied NYCHA elevators and found that 75% had failed routine inspections over the past five years. Stringer said, “The lawsuit brought by NYLAG and Paul Weiss will, I hope, put an end to this dangerous and unacceptable situation once and for all.”

One of the seven individual plaintiffs cited in the case is Wilma Brito, a 38 year-old cerebral palsy patient who uses a wheelchair and lives in NYCHA housing. Back in March, when both elevators in her building were broken simultaneously for three days, Ms. Brito was trapped in her apartment and unable to attend a doctor’s appointment or take her children to school. On another occasion when both elevators were broken simultaneously, Ms. Brito was stuck outside her building from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“Ms. Brito’s story is representative of the hardships faced by thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who live in NYCHA housing. Those residents are rendered effectively homeless when they return home and find that the elevator in their building has failed, so that they cannot access their apartment for hours, if not days. This lawsuit seeks to remedy this fundamental violation of the rights of people with disabilities,” said Andrew J. Ehrlich, a litigation partner at Paul Weiss who is working on the case.