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Fair Housing Rights Center In Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Post Goldtex GP, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 14, 2015

FAIR HOUSING RIGHTS CENTER IN SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA, Plaintiff,
v.
POST GOLDTEX GP, LLC POST GOLDTEX, L.P. KLINGSTUBBINS, LLP KLINGSTUBBINS, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, Senior District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court are the Motions by Defendants Post Goldtex GP, LLC; Post Goldtex, L.P.; Klingstubbins, LLP; and Klingstubbins, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants") to Dismiss Plaintiff Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania ("Plaintiff")'s Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), as well as Defendants' Motions for Sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. For the following reasons, the Motions to Dismiss are granted and the Motions for Sanctions are denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a non-profit corporation located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that provides counseling, referrals, advocacy, and complaint resolution to people who believe they have been illegally denied housing or treated in a discriminatory manner; investigates claims of discrimination and monitors discriminatory housing practices and trends in the region; offers education workshops and materials on fair housing rights and responsibilities; and receives grants and contracts from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3616a to carry out programs to investigate and monitor discriminatory housing practices and activities and to participate in enforcement activities. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Defendants Post Goldtex GP, LLC and Post Goldtex, L.P. have offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and developed, constructed, and own the Goldtex Apartments. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Defendants Klingstubbins, LLP and KlingStubbins, Inc. also have offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and designed the Goldtex Apartments. (Id. at ¶ 12.)

The Goldtex Apartments are located in the Goldtex Building at 315-323 North 12th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 13.) When the Goldtex Building was originally constructed in 1912, it was approximately 144 feet wide and 1, 145 feet long, consisted of ten floors plus a basement, and had three elevators. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) At that time it was known as the Smaltz Building, and was renamed the Goldtex Building in or around 1991. (Id. at ¶ 16.) When it was built in 1912, the Smaltz Building was constructed for and used as a factory. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Between 1912 and approximately the mid-1990s, the Smaltz/Goldtex Building was leased solely to manufacturers and wholesale and commercial businesses. (Id. at ¶ 19.) The Goldtex Building fell steadily into disuse and disrepair, and was unused, abandoned, and shuttered by the late 1990s. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

On October 7, 2010, Defendant Post Goldtex, L.P. purchased the Goldtex Building for $4.5 million, and subsequently both Goldtex Defendants hired the Klingstubbins Defendants as the architects to design the conversion of the entire building into rental apartments with retail space on the ground level. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.) Based on the Klingstubbins Defendants' design, the Goldtex Defendants gutted the interior of the Goldtex Building by removing most interior walls and all windows, but retaining the floors, and also completely clad the exterior of the building with new materials. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 27.) The Klingstubbins Defendants converted the Goldtex Building from space designed for manufacturers or wholesale or commercial businesses to residential dwellings. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Based on the Klingstubbins Design, the Goldtex Defendants constructed 163 rental apartments in the Goldtex Building. (Id. at ¶ 30.) The Goldtex Building opened for residential use in 2013. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Prior to what Plaintiff describes as Defendants' complete reconstructions and repurposing of the Goldtex Building as apartments, the Goldtex Building had never been 1) designed or constructed for residential purposes; 2) used as dwellings as defined in the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b); 3) sold to residential owners or leased to residential tenants; or 4) designed or constructed as covered multifamily dwellings as defined by the FHA, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(7). (Id. at ¶ 32.)

In March 2014, Plaintiff conducted a comprehensive site visit at the Goldtex Apartments, surveying the completed common areas and three units of different sizes and layouts. (Id. at ¶ 35.) That survey identified multiple violations of FHA design and construction standards, including but not limited to the following:

a) The main building entrance door is too heavy and there is no automatic door opener;
b) Some dwelling units have entry doors less than 32 inches, which do not allow passage by persons who use wheelchairs;
c) Some dwelling units have entry units where the threshold from the interior to the hallway exceeds - of an inch, impeding passage by persons who use wheelchairs;
d) Some dwelling units have interior doors, including bathroom and/or bedroom doors, which are less than 32 inches wide, precluding passage by persons who use wheelchairs and eliminating accessible routes through those dwellings;
e) Some dwelling units have passageways that are less than 36 inches wide, eliminating routes within those dwellings;
f) Some dwelling units have bathrooms that are not useable by persons who use wheelchairs because the toilet location was inaccessible;
g) Some dwelling units have kitchen counters that are too high for them to be useable by persons who use wheelchairs;
h) Some dwelling units have switches, outlets, and thermostats in locations that are inaccessible;
i) In the common areas, some mailboxes were too high for them to be useable by persons who use wheelchairs.

(Id. at ¶ 36.) Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant's representatives on April 11, 2014, detailing the alleged violations of the FHA's design and construction requirements and asking that they remedy those violations. (Id. at ¶ 37.) The Goldtex Defendants advised Plaintiff that the Goldtex Building was not subject to those requirements. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that it has been directly and substantially injured as a result of Defendants' actions and omissions, because it has had to invest resources to investigate Defendants' alleged violations of the FHA, diverting its resources from other activities it could have undertaken; and because its mission to eradicate housing discrimination and assure equal access to housing for all people, including people with disabilities, has been frustrated. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the residential apartment units, or dwelling units, in the Goldtex Apartments are "covered multifamily dwellings" as defined by the FHA, that all of the dwelling units were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and that the units and the common-use areas in the building are therefore subject to the FHA's design and construction requirements as set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3). (Compl. ¶ 44-45 (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(7)(A), 3604(f)(3)).) Plaintiff alleges further that ...


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