Owner Not Required to Move Resident to Two-Bedroom Unit
Facts: A disabled African-American resident sued a New York owner for discrimination based on her race or her disability. The resident lives in a one-bedroom unit with a daughter who’s also her live-in aide. According to the owner, the resident never added her daughter as an additional tenant to the lease or as a live-in aid. The resident claimed that even though her name was the next and only name on the waiting list for a two-bedroom unit at the site, the management unreasonably denied her the unit.
The resident also complained that the management decided to install carpet in the two-bedroom unit against her wishes. Notwithstanding the manager’s intent not to offer the unit to her mother, the daughter viewed the unit and told the manager not to install carpet until her mother was allowed to see the unit. Specifically, she told the manager that her mother would not want carpet because “bed bugs thrive in carpet.”
The resident claims that the decision to install the carpet clearly indicated the decision had already been made to violate her fair housing rights and that she was denied the “same rights as the current Caucasian family and the prior Asian family” because both families were “allowed not to have carpet forced upon them prior to tenancy and both were never . . . forced to have carpet after they accepted [the] tenancy.”
In addition, the resident complained the owner retaliated against her in violation of the Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law by sending letters to her regarding the status of recertification, painting, and unit inspection requirements. The owner asked the court to dismiss the resident’s case.
Ruling: A New York district court granted the owner’s request.
Reasoning: Housing discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act and the New York Human Rights Law require the resident to show that she qualified for an available benefit and was denied that benefit. Here, the resident didn’t try to add her daughter to the household or qualify her as a live-in aide, as the manager had explained was necessary to comply with HUD regulations and thus qualify for the benefit that she sought.
In a letter, the manager had explained that based on the resident’s last recertification, she’s considered a household of one person, and for her daughter to reside in her unit as her primary residence, the resident could either request that her daughter be added to the household (in which case management must include her income and assets to the household) or provide documentation satisfactory to HUD to qualify her daughter as a live-in aide. The manager then provided the regulations for the HUD Section 8 program concerning the eligibility requirements for a live-in aide who is also a relative of a tenant.
The regulations require, among other things, that: (1) the owner verify that the resident requires the support of a live-in aide because of a disability-related need; (2) the live-in aide undergo screening for drug activity, creditworthiness, and criminal activity; and (3) the screening process be the one the owner has established for new applicants and additions to households. Accordingly, the manager had explained, that in order to consider the request for a two-bedroom unit, management must verify that her need for a live-in aide is a disability-related need.
With regard to the retaliation claims, the court stated the recertification, painting, and unit inspection letters were not adverse actions within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act. To be actionable, an adverse action must have some materially adverse effect on the resident. The resident didn’t state how the letters adversely affected them.
- Wilson v. Wilder Balter Partners, Inc., February 2015