Opening Acts: October 26, 2018

Source of Income Discrimination Lawsuit Filed

Man with Disability Using a Rental Subsidy Refused Service and Steered to the Bronx

A man living with AIDS who attempted to rent an apartment using a rental subsidy filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court against 165 Sherman Avenue, L.L.C., PMG Real Estate Corp. and Pablo M. Garcia alleging discrimination based on source of income in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants, through their broker, refused to do business with the plaintiff, Mr. Campbell, after he revealed that he had a subsidy from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).

HASA provides housing subsidies to tens of thousands of New Yorkers living with AIDS to assist them to secure housing and avoid homelessness. Ten years ago, the City Council passed Local Law 10, prohibiting landlords and their agents from discriminating based on a prospective tenant’s lawful source of income, such as a HASA rent subsidy.

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) conducted a testing investigation that corroborated the alleged source of income discrimination. The defendants’ broker explained that the landlords whom he represents do not accept applicants with a HASA subsidy, and suggested that instead of Manhattan, the applicant should look for a real estate agent “in the Bronx.”

“When they told me they don’t work with programs, I felt defeated, lost,” said Mr. Campbell, the plaintiff who is represented in the lawsuit by Armen H. Merjian, Sina Choi, and Elena Rodriquez of Housing Works, Inc. and Kevin M. Cremin, Donna Chiu, and Caroline L. Chen of Mobilization for Justice (MFJ). Campbell added “It really hurts your self-esteem when you have a government program to help you and they still tell you they won’t work with you.”

“Discrimination against those with vouchers and subsidies is rampant, notwithstanding the ability of the applicants to pay the full market rent, and it is helping to fuel the homelessness crisis in New York,” said Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney at Housing Works.

MFJ’s Director of Litigation for Disability & Aging Rights Kevin M. Cremin stated, “Even though it’s been ten years since the City outlawed source of income discrimination, we’re still seeing too many examples of illegal bias preventing voucher holders from finding homes.”

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “The cruel and heartless practice of refusing to make housing available to vulnerable populations with disabilities based on their source of income is not only patently immoral, it is illegal, and it must stop.” Freiberg added, “The State of New York must be more pro-active and ensure that real estate licensees who fail to comply with fair housing laws face stronger penalties and suspension or revocation of their licenses.”

The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with an injunction prohibiting the defendants from discriminating based on lawful source of income. The plaintiff also seeks to require the defendants, among other things, to undergo fair housing training and to adopt and post non-discrimination policies.