JDS, GO Partners fined $800K in American Copper Buildings settlement

Advocates say developers refused to take renovation deadline seriously

JDS Development and Black Spruce Management Reach American Copper Towers Settlement
626 First Avenue (Acroterion, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)

Josh Gotlib and Michael Stern haven’t kept up on their part of a nearly $3 million settlement over accessibility issues at the American Copper Buildings, advocates say.

The Fair Housing Justice Center filed a lawsuit against Stern’s JDS Development in 2019 about violations of the Fair Housing Act Amendments at the luxury rentals at 626 First Avenue in Murray Hill.

The lawsuit cited around 150 different types of violations across the 761 units, including doors being too narrow and mailboxes being too high off the ground. The two sides reached a $2.9 million settlement in 2021.

The next year, JDS sold the buildings for $837 million to GO Partners, which a GO Partners spokesperson described as a venture between Gotlib of Black Spruce and Meyer Orbach of Orbach Affordable Housing. (Previously, its representatives called it a venture by the two firms.) They were bound by the settlement to make the upgrades, but the Fair Housing Justice Center says they didn’t complete the work by this year’s March deadline.

The parties have now reached a new settlement that includes an $800,000 penalty and sets up a new series of fines for each day the violations persist.

“The initial landmark settlement reflects just how egregious the non-compliance at the American Copper Buildings was to begin with,” said Alice Reiter of Cuti Hecker Wang, an attorney for the center. “The subsequent settlement reflects the level to which JDS and Black Spruce refused to take seriously their remediation obligations.”

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A spokesperson for GO Partners wrote in an email that the partnership was working to bring the building into compliance.

“After purchasing the American Copper Building from JDS Development, we were made aware of some accessibility issues that were detected when the building was first completed,” the spokesperson wrote. “Upon acquiring the property, we immediately began extensive remediation on these issues.”

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Every unit in the buildings and the vast majority of the common areas were built in violation of the act, according to the Justice Center. 

About 20 apartments still need to be renovated, according to Reiter. She added that the vast majority of the common spaces still need to be fixed, including through complex work by engineers — not simply switching out a hinge on a door.

The new settlement imposes fines of $10,000 per day for each violation. Each apartment that hasn’t been fixed can have multiple violations, so the fines are likely to add up quickly.

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