Recipient of Subsidy Proceeds with Bias Case Against Landlord
A Federal judge has refused to dismiss a case brought by an indigent woman living with HIV/AIDS who claims the LeFrak Organization discriminated against her in renting an apartment because she was receiving a housing subsidy from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration.
Southern District Judge Denise Cote (See Profile) said lawyers for the woman and the advocacy group Fair Housing Justice Center had adequately pleaded claims under the federal Fair Housing Act and New York City's Human Rights Law that the woman was discriminated against because she was subjected to a "more burdensome and delayed process" and was not shown apartments she could have afforded with a city subsidy.
Formed in 1985, The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), provides owners of New York City apartments with a "direct-vendor check" for the first month's rent, a voucher for a security deposit and a direct-vendor check for each month's rent on behalf of over 30,000 renters with clinical or symptomatic HIV or AIDS.
HASA must first inspect the apartment before it provides the money, but it does not provide a letter to landlords guaranteeing it will subsidize the tenant.
In 2011, L.C. was told she would get a full housing subsidy for $1,100 a month and she learned there were apartments renting for that amount in LeFrak City, but when she visited a company office on Queens Boulevard, she was told LeFrak required a letter from HASA confirming it would pay the $1,100 per month.
L.C. turned to Housing Works, a non-profit that works to fight AIDS and homelessness. A Housing Works case manager called LeFrak and confirmed that apartments were available for $1,100 and that the company would not rent to L.C. without a letter from HASA.
This experience was repeated by workers at the Fair Housing Justice Center, which sent "testers" to LeFrak in May 2012.
One tester said she was immediately shown a floor plan, given an application and shown a studio apartment—all without having to provide documentation. Other testers who explained they had a brother living with AIDS who had a HASA housing subsidy said they were not shown any apartments and were directed to another LeFrak office for renters who get government subsidies.
Armed with these allegations, the plaintiffs in April filed the case of L.C. and Fair Housing Justice Center v. LeFrak Organization, 13 Civ. 2759, and LeFrak moved to dismiss.
In her opinion issued Dec. 13, Cote first held that the Fair Housing Justice Center had standing to sue as an organization because it alleged that it "expended staff time and other resources to investigate and respond to Defendants' discriminatory rental practices, which diverted resources away from other FHJC activities."