The Philadelphia developer who may have singlehandedly turned the city’s Northern Liberties section from a rundown, post-industrial wasteland into a thriving commercial and residential district is facing a federal lawsuit over his alleged failure to properly fix a wheelchair lift used by a former residential tenant.

The complaint, which was filed Aug. 17 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by New Jersey attorney Anthony J. Brady on behalf of New Jersey resident Stephen H. Cristal, accuses Tower Investments, Inc., and its principal, Bart Blatstein, of violating the federal Civil Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act when the company improperly attempted to “patch up” a hydraulic wheelchair lift that had become broken at an apartment building at 1010 N. Hancock St. in Philadelphia.

Cristal, a paraplegic who has no use of his legs, entered into a lease agreement with the landlord in June 2007 with the understanding that he would be provided with adequate wheelchair accessibility, since his apartment would be located on the fifth floor of the building, the lawsuit states.

“To induce Plaintiff to enter into the lease, Defendants represented to Plaintiff that the wheelchair lift always worked, never had a problem and would be continuously and diligently maintained by Defendants so that Plaintiff would always have access to his apartment,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants were aware at all times of Plaintiff’s disability, his absolute need for and reliance on the wheelchair lift and the landlord’s obligation to keep the lift always working.”

Cristal eventually moved into his apartment and things were fine for a while, the lawsuit states. And while the lift occasionally broke down during subsequent years, it was always fixed “within a period of days.”

In June 2010, however, the lift broke down while Cristal was inside, leading a passerby to have to pry open the metal door and assist him out.

“Plaintiff was embarrassed and humiliated by the incident,” the lawsuit states.

At this point, the Defendants realized that the lift either needed a new part or had to be replaced entirely, the lawsuit states. The lift then stayed broken for a five-week period.

During this time, Cristal had to use an alternative way of getting to and from his apartment; he had to pass through a business on the first floor of the mixed-use site, using a ramp otherwise designated for deliveries to get to his apartment.

To get from the lobby into the business, the lawsuit states, Cristal had to pass through a heavy glass door with a lock near the bottom. At one point, while attempting to unlock the door, Cristal injured his back and shoulder.

The defendants eventually called someone to fix the hydraulic wheelchair lift, the lawsuit states, but instead of spending the money to properly fix the device, a repair company was called to do a “cheap patch-up job,” the lawsuit claims.

During subsequent weeks, the wheelchair lift broke various times, eventually for good.

In May 2011, because of the faulty lift, Cristal was forced to terminate his lease and move to another apartment, the lawsuit states.

“Plaintiff’s reason for moving was the non-working wheelchair lift, and Defendants’ continued refusal to fix the lift, making Plaintiff’s life intolerable, painful and humiliating,” the lawsuit claims.

Cristal also allegedly became the butt of many jokes throughout his ordeal, leading him to suffer continued embarrassment, the suit states.

In addition to the physical injuries Cristal suffered when attempting to open the heavy glass door, he also suffered emotional pain and suffering, anxiety and depression, which led to psychiatric treatment and expense; he experienced financial loss because of his need to move to a new apartment, which was more expensive than the first; his social life was affected because of his inability to leave his apartment at times; and he suffered injuries to his reputation and “goodwill in the community,” the complaint alleges.

Cristal seeks injunctive relief to have the wheelchair lift permanently fixed or replaced, declaratory judgment determining that the defendants are in violation of federal law, compensatory damages and litigation expenses.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-05206-PD.

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