Owner Not Liable for Disability Discrimination
Facts: A site manager notified an applicant that her application for housing wasn’t accepted “because a credit check has revealed that [she] ha[s] a negative credit history[,]” which was “verified through TransUnion.” The credit report referenced in the manager’s letter indicated a “high risk fraud alert” for the applicant, apparently because her “current file address does not match input address(es).” The report also revealed two creditor accounts with past-due amounts totaling $407, and a December 2015 civil judgment in the amount of $565 entered against her in favor of another apartment owner. The manager’s letter provided the address for TransUnion, and suggested that the applicant order her own credit report. The manager also notified the applicant that if she disagreed with the decision, she could, within 14 days of her receipt of the letter, respond in writing or request a meeting with management, at which they could discuss her credit history.
The applicant sued the site owner for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act and discriminating against her on the basis of her disability. The owner submitted the site’s tenant selection plan, which lists the possible reasons rental applicants can be rejected. One of these is that the individual has a “negative credit history” as verified by a credit check performed by TransUnion. The applicant disputed the information from the credit report by stating that her credit must be good because she pays cash for everything.
Ruling: A New York district court granted a judgment without a trial in the owner’s favor.
Reasoning: Federal regulations applicable to HUD housing provides that “[i]n selection of families for admission to its public housing program, or to occupy a public housing development or unit, the PHA is responsible for screening family behavior and suitability for tenancy. The PHA may consider all relevant information, which may include, but is not limited to an applicant’s past performance in meeting financial obligations, especially rent . . . .” [24 C.F.R. § 960.203(c)(1)].
Here, the owner offered evidence that the applicant has a poor record of meeting her financial obligations, particularly rent payments. Specifically, the TransUnion Credit Report indicates that the applicant has a civil judgment against her owed to another apartment owner, and that she is in debt to two other creditors.
In light of all of the evidence, the court found that the applicant had failed to show that a reasonable jury could conclude that discrimination was the real reason her rental application was rejected.
- Byrd v. Dunn Towers, January 2018