Owner Discriminated by Refusing Reasonable Accommodation
Facts: A disabled Section 8 resident claimed the site owner discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by refusing to allow her sister and primary caretaker to live in her unit.
The resident is unable to care for herself and requires around-the-clock assistance with everyday tasks including cooking, eating, using the bathroom, and dressing herself. She receives federal Section 8 housing benefits and has lived in the unit for over 30 years. Her mother was her primary caretaker until her death in 2016. When their mother died, the resident’s sister assumed the role of full-time caretaker. The sister applied for and was granted guardianship of the resident by New York Surrogate’s Court in 2017, and she manages virtually every aspect of the resident’s life, including her finances and daily medical care.
The owner has been aware of the resident’s disability for years. Her condition was listed on the family’s original housing application in 1984, and her status was noted on annual recertification paperwork filed by her mother. Her disability was also specifically raised at least four times during the mother’s prior attempts to have the sister added to the family composition.
The owner refused to allow the resident’s sister to move into the apartment to care for her sister full time, largely on the grounds that the sister has a poor credit history and a housing court record. The resident sought a reasonable accommodation under federal, state, and local disability law to allow the sister to live with and care for the resident.
Despite the owner’s refusal to grant an accommodation, when the mother’s illness became severe in early 2016, the sister moved into the unit to care for the resident. In the months following their mother’s death, the sister paid the resident’s monthly rent on time and without incident. In October 2016, the owner commenced eviction proceedings and refused to accept further rent payments. With eviction proceedings ongoing, the resident sued the owner for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Ruling: A New York district court granted a judgment without a trial in the resident’s favor.
Reasoning: To establish a reasonable accommodation claim under the FHA, the resident must demonstrate each of the following: (1) that she is disabled within the meaning of the FHA; (2) that the owner knew or should have known this fact; (3) that the accommodation may be necessary to afford the resident an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; (4) that the requested accommodation is reasonable; and (5) that the owner refused to make the requested accommodation. The court found that no genuine dispute of material fact exists as to any of these elements.
It was clear that allowing the sister to live in the unit is the only way for the resident to have an “equal opportunity to use and enjoy” the unit. The resident cannot live alone and requires around-the-clock care. Now that her parents have died, she has no other family or friends willing and able to care for her. Either the sister is allowed to move into the unit to care for her sister, or the resident will have to move out.
The court also concluded that the accommodation the resident seeks is reasonable. Under Section 8, the owner will receive the same rent regardless of whether the sister moves into the unit. Second, because the sister is responsible for managing the resident’s finances and Social Security payments, the sister would be required to pay the resident’s rent regardless. Third, the sister has paid monthly rent on time and without incident until the owner commenced eviction proceedings and refused to accept further payments. The court found there is no concrete reason to believe that the sister will be unable to make rental payments. And the resident’s immediate, urgent medical condition and need for care make it reasonable that the sister live in the unit.
- Martinez v. Lexington Gardens Assocs., August 2018