Lawsuit alleges discriminatory practices at senior living facilities, including Bethel Park and North Fayette | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors
Several fair housing advocacy groups, including one in Pittsburgh, filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in New York on Tuesday, alleging that seniors with disabilities were being denied reasonable accommodations like parking spots or first-floor units.
The lawsuit alleges a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and names as a defendant Clover Group Inc., which operates a number of senior living communities in Western Pennsylvania, including Bethel Square Senior Apartments in Bethel Park and Lafayette Square Senior Apartments in North Fayette.
According to the complaint, filed in the Northern District of New York, Clover Group companies are operated by parent companies Welltower Inc. and WellClover Holdings LLC, which have purchased or developed more than 6,500 apartment units in six states, many of them designated for people over age 55.
Messages left for Clover Group were not immediately returned.
Among the plaintiffs filing suit is The Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh Inc.
Founded in 1984, it is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving equal housing choice in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Megan Confer-Hammond, the executive director, said she expects that thousands of Pennsylvania seniors will be impacted by the litigation.
“Pennsylvania’s elderly population is amongst the highest in the United States and amongst disabilities, limited mobility is the most common physical disability,” she said in a news release. “Up-charging unit locations and locking-in residents by disallowing accessible parking is not only cruel but is housing discrimination against seniors with limited mobility. Pennsylvania’s seniors deserve better.”
The investigation into Clover Group began three years ago when several disabled residents at a property outside of Syracuse made a complaint to CNY Fair Housing. The residents there alleged that they had sought parking closer to their units but were told there was no reserved parking; that they’d have to pay a $350 permit fee; or extra rent each month.
In addition, some residents were charged additional costs to get a first-floor unit, a unit with grab bars or to be near an elevator.
As a result of the Clover Group’s parking policies, the lawsuit said, the individual plaintiffs have suffered physical injuries from falling, canceled plans for fear of losing their parking space; relied on friends and family for transportation and “felt imprisoned in their own apartments.”
In one instance, a woman with degenerative back problems and neuropathy in her legs who must use a walker at all times, fell last year in the parking lot while trying to step up onto a sidewalk where there was no curb buts, the lawsuit said.
She hit and bruised her face and arms and was unable to get up on her own, instead having to wait for someone to come to her aid, the lawsuit said. She is now reluctant to leave her apartment.
The housing advocacy groups coordinated undercover testing in New York, Ohio and at senior apartment complexes in Allegheny, Erie and Lackawanna counties, to find out if Clover’s policies were discriminatory, the lawsuit said.
Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh sent people to the Bethel Square property, where a tester was told there were no assigned parking spaces “‘because if I gave one to one, then everyone would want one,’” the lawsuit said.
At Lafayette Square in North Fayette, a tester was told they couldn’t have an assigned parking space “because it wouldn’t be fair to the other residents.”
“The designated parking policies have an outsized effect at defendants’ senior living properties where many residents have mobility disabilities that significantly affect their ability to walk from their cars to their units or require the use of mobility assistance devices such as walkers, canes, and wheelchairs that can only be effectively used in the limited number of accessible spaces at the complexes,” the lawsuit said. “Many of the individuals living at or applying to live at defendants’ senior properties have limited, fixed incomes and cannot afford the fees charged by defendants for the designated spaces they desperately need.”
The lawsuit alleges that Clover Group properties generally have inadequate numbers of accessible parking spaces. Instead, the properties use a first-come, first-served policy for parking, and residents are told they cannot have reserved or designated parking.
Because most Clover Group apartments are garden style and three-story, the lawsuit said, parking spaces can be hundreds of yards from the entrance or elevator.
Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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