Opening Acts Newsletter: October 6, 2014

FHJC Investigation Verifies Discriminatory Policy at the Sand Castle Apartments in Queens

Complaint Alleges Disability and Source of Income Discrimination

On September 30, 2014, two men living with symptomatic HIV/AIDS filed a lawsuit in federal district court (E.D.N.Y.) alleging that they were denied an opportunity to rent apartments at the Sand Castle Apartments, a 917-unit rental complex located at 711 Seagirt Ave. in Far Rockaway, Queens. The lawsuit alleges that the owners, Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corp. and Sarasota Gold LLC, discriminated against the two men because of their disabilities and because they were planning to pay their rent with a rental subsidy from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) of New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA).

In 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) received a complaint referred by Housing Works, Inc. In response to the complaint, the FHJC conducted an undercover testing investigation over four months to determine if agents for the Sand Castle Apartments were discriminating against prospective renters living with HIV/AIDS who use the HASA rental subsidy. The testing investigation confirmed that rental agents categorically refused, as a matter of policy, to rent to anyone who has a HASA rental subsidy while agreeing to provide information about available apartments, show available apartments, and encourage non-disabled applicants with income from employment to apply for apartments. In one test, an agent for Sand Castle explained to a tester posing as a renter with a HASA rental subsidy, the decision not to rent to people with HASA is “a management decision, I can’t do anything about it.” The agent added, “I got the memo, I got it a couple of months ago…and so, since then I had to turn away all the applications. There’s nothing I can do about it…It’s like a waste of time, you know, to even write the application for you. I’ll be honest, you know, I don’t want you to go through the process then [that’s it], because it’s going to be a no.” The FHJC investigation yielded evidence of blatant and systemic discrimination based on disability and source of income at the Sand Castle Apartments in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure compliance with fair housing laws, damages, and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, the HIV Law Project, Inc., and Housing Works, Inc. 

Commenting on the lawsuit, Housing Works Senior Staff Attorney Armen H. Merjian stated “New Yorkers should be appalled to learn that such brazen discrimination and exclusion continues to plague our city.” Fred Freiberg, FHJC Executive Director added, “Adopting and enforcing a policy that callously excludes people living with HIV/AIDS who seek to pay their rent with a HASA rental subsidy is both unlawful and unconscionable.” Freiberg added, “The FHJC will continue to work closely with Housing Works and other local organizations to combat all forms of housing discrimination directed at persons living with HIV/AIDS and to expand the supply of decent and affordable housing available to the tens of thousands of people in New York City who have HASA rental subsidies.” As of 2012, 67,141 people were living with AIDS in New York City and 49% were HASA clients. In 2008, New York City banned housing discrimination based on source of income, including rental subsidies.