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Opening Acts: April 21, 2016

Fair Housing Lawsuit Challenges Discriminatory Income Requirement at Flatbush Gardens in Brooklyn

Man Living with HIV/AIDS Alleges Disability and Source of Income Discrimination

On April 20, 2016, R. H., a homeless man living with HIV/AIDS, filed a lawsuit in federal district court (EDNY) alleging that Renaissance Equity Holdings LLC, the owner of Brooklyn’s Flatbush Gardens, a residential complex consisting of 59 buildings with over 2000 apartments, discriminates on the basis of disability and source of income.

The complaint alleges that R. H. has a rental subsidy from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) and that the HASA subsidy would pay 100% of his rent.  According to the complaint, R. H. inquired about renting an apartment at Flatbush Gardens in August 2015.  He was informed that all applicants were required to earn an annual income of 40 times the monthly rent.  For the $1,195 per month studio apartment, a $47,800 annual income was required and for a $1,295 per month junior one bedroom apartment, a $51,800 annual income was required.  When R. H. explained that HASA would pay 100% of his rent which included his utilities, he was told that all applicants would still need to meet the income requirement notwithstanding his 100% housing subsidy.

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) investigated the complaint through testing and corroborated that the income requirement effectively rules out and excludes all persons living with HIV/AIDS who use a HASA rental subsidy to pay their rent.  An agent who met with a tester posing as an unemployed HASA client was also told that he would have to meet the income guideline despite reassurances offered by the tester that HASA would pay the entire rent amount.  At one point, the agent suggested to the tester that he might be able to find a “guarantor” to which the tester explained “my guarantor would be New York City…I mean because they are covering one hundred percent of the rent.”  The agent insisted that the income requirement would still have to be met.  According to the complaint, the FHJC investigation “confirmed that Defendant categorically refuses to rent to all disabled HASA clients like [R. H.], who cannot by definition meet Defendant’s income requirements.”

The lawsuit alleges that the defendant’s practices constituted intentional discrimination based on source of income and disability in violation of the City Human Rights Law and the federal Fair Housing Act.  The complaint also alleges that the defendant’s income requirement has a disparate impact on persons living with HIV/AIDS.  The plaintiff is seeking damages and injunctive relief that would bring the defendant into compliance with fair housing laws and ensure non-discrimination in the future.  The plaintiff is represented by Armen H. Merjian of Housing Works, Inc. and Diane L. Houk of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP. 

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “Nearly half of all people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City receive financial assistance from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).  HASA rental subsidies afford people living with HIV/AIDS the only opportunity to acquire and maintain a decent, safe, and healthy place to live.”  Freiberg added, “When landlords impose requirements that, by design, exclude households with rental subsidies, including people with disabilities, these policies inflict enormous harm on some of the most marginalized populations in our community.”