Wheelchair Against White Background

A Manhattan assisted living facility is facing a federal lawsuit over allegations that it discriminates against people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

The lawsuit, filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center against Vista on 5th Corp., is the result of an investigation the nonprofit civil rights organization began in 2019 using undercover testers. The testers repeatedly were told that older adults using wheelchairs were not eligible for residence at the assisted living facilities because they could not “self-evacuate in case of an emergency” and walk unassisted down the stairs, according to the lawsuit. One tester reportedly was told that the self-evacuation rule was a state mandate.

Vista on 5th did not respond to requests for comment by the McKnight’s Senior Living’s publication deadline.

FHJC said there is no such self-evacuation rule. New York state regulations since 2018 explicitly prohibit assisted living programs from denying access to anyone based solely on wheelchair use. Assisted living programs are required to make reasonable accommodations to offer equal access to wheelchair-using residents.

The state regulations were updated following a similar lawsuit FHJC filed in 2018 against a group of assisted living communities in New York City and the state’s governor, health commissioner and Department of Health. In that suit, the civil rights organization alleged that the state “promotes disability discrimination through its regulations and policies.” The Department of Health updated state regulations governing eligibility to assisted living programs that year.

The lawsuit alleges that Vista on 5th violated the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act and the New York City Human Rights Law. The suit seeks elimination of the “no wheelchair” policy and revisions to the company’s screening and admission policies, along with damages and injunctive relief to end discriminatory practices.

“Assisted living programs should be equally available to any elderly person who needs this type of housing and can benefit from the services being offered,” FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg said in a statement

FHJC’s investigation was supported by funding from a private enforcement initiative grant from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.