Opening Acts: January 17, 2017

Suit Alleges Major NYC Landlord Discriminates Based on Disability and Source of Income

FHJC Investigation Verified Allegation that Grenadier Realty Corp. Refused Rental Subsidies from Applicants Living with AIDS

On January 12, 2017, a homeless woman with a New York City HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) rental subsidy filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Grenadier Realty Corp. discriminates against prospective renters based on disability and source of income.  The lawsuit specifically alleges that the defendant categorically refuses to rent to HASA clients, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York City Human Rights Law.  Grenadier Realty Corp., a company that owns and manages more than 22,000 rental units, was sued for source of income discrimination in 2015 by two women and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and is also facing a class action complaint filed earlier this month by four homeless and formerly homeless women with rental subsidies.

There are approximately 78,000 people currently living in New York City with clinical/symptomatic HIV illness or AIDs, and roughly 36,000 of those individuals are HASA clients. The HASA program provides subsidies to individuals living with symptomatic HIV illness or AIDs in need of safe, stable and affordable housing, as housing has a direct impact on the ability of persons living with HIV/AIDs to maintain and manage their health.  HASA rental subsidies are a lifeline for tens of thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities.

According to the complaint filed last week, the plaintiff, Ms. Cruz, applied for a one bedroom apartment in 2014, disclosing that she was a HASA client. The defendant placed Ms. Cruz on a waiting list for housing and then one year later told her, as a matter of policy, that it no longer accepted the HASA rental subsidy. The FHJC conducted a testing investigation which confirmed the existence of the discriminatory policy.

“We hear every day about the homeless crisis in New York,” said Armen H. Merjian, senior staff attorney at Housing Works Inc. and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff. “What we are not hearing about is the rampant source-of-income discrimination that is fueling the crisis, nearly a decade after the New York City Council expressly prohibited such discrimination.”

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented, “HASA rental subsidies provide an essential safety net for lower income people living with HIV/AIDS.”  Freiberg added, “Every time a landlord illegally refuses to accept HASA rental subsidies, a hole is created in that safety net and some of the most vulnerable people in this community slip through and either return to the shelter system or end up renting the least safe and sanitary housing available.  This continuing and pervasive lawlessness by major landlords not only thwarts ongoing efforts by New York City to reduce homelessness, thus increasing the costs borne by taxpayers, but it has potentially perilous health consequences for the indigent population living with AIDS.”

The plaintiff is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to stop the defendant’s discriminatory behavior, as well as damages and attorneys’ fees. The plaintiff is represented by Armen H. Merjian and Diane L.  Houk of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs to foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing enforcement in the New York City region.