PHA Didn't Consider Reasonable Accommodations in Denying Succession Requests
Facts: A resident who lived in a one-bedroom apartment was diagnosed with advanced dementia in 2009. Her disability rendered her mentally unstable and incapable of living alone, as noted in medical records submitted to the housing manager and at a housing authority hearing. These notes indicated that it was “unsafe” for the resident “to live on her own,” and that she needed “to be under constant supervision.”
On or about Aug. 24, 2010, the resident submitted a request to the PHA seeking to add her son as an occupant of the apartment. The request was denied on the ground that allowing the son to live with his mother “will create overcrowding conditions.”
In January 2011, the resident submitted an affidavit of income that included her son as a tenant. The housing manager crossed out his name.
In February 2011, the PHA reviewed a second permanent permission request to add the son as an occupant of the household. The request stated that the resident was “[s]uffering from dementia [and] cannot be alone.” The request was disapproved, allegedly because the housing manager didn’t believe the form had been signed by the resident and the “son cannot request permissions and cannot sign for his mother.”
In July 2012, the resident’s son informed the management office that his mother had died and requested that he be permitted to rent the apartment. At a subsequent meeting with the housing manager, the son was informed that he was never part of the household and was never given written permission to join the household. In April 2013, the PHA initiated eviction proceedings against the son. The proceeding was adjourned while he appealed the denial of his request for remaining family member status.
At the hearing, the son submitted evidence concerning his mother’s health condition and her requests for him to permanently join the household. The hearing officer found that the mother was the sole authorized occupant of the apartment and denied the son’s grievance, stating “the grievant was never an authorized member of the tenant’s household and did not obtain the written permission of management to join tenant’s household.”
The son sued, challenging the PHA’s denial of his remaining family member grievance. The son asserted that the denial of his application on the ground that his occupancy would create an “overcrowding” condition was arbitrary and capricious. He noted, furthermore, that the PHA had been aware of his occupancy from August 2010 onward.
The court dismissed his lawsuit on the ground that the PHA had a reasonable basis for its decision—namely, that the son had failed to obtain written consent to be added as a member of his mother’s household. The court further found that the son lacked standing to assert a disability claim on behalf of his mother who was responsible for obtaining the PHA’s permission to add him to the household. The son appealed.
Ruling: A New York appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and sent the case back for further consideration.
Reasoning: The court emphasized that the son isn’t asserting a disability claim on his mother’s behalf, but rather he’s challenging the PHA’s denial of his application for remaining family member status. Under the New York City Human Rights Law, the person claiming a failure to accommodate a disability need not be the person to whom the accommodation was not provided. Therefore, the resident’s son was allowed to file this lawsuit.
The court also decided that the PHA’s denial of the son’s succession rights to his mother’s apartment was arbitrary. The mother submitted multiple applications to add him to the lease. The court noted that the PHA never considered evidence of the mother’s disability in denying the applications.
The court said a request to add an additional family member will almost always result in overcrowding unless the PHA fails simultaneously to consider transferring the applicant to a larger apartment. The PHA’s guidelines provide that an “overcrowded” apartment shouldn’t result in a summary denial of the remaining family member’s claims; rather, the housing manager should inform the new tenant that he may submit a request to transfer to a new apartment.
Neither the son nor his mother was afforded a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate what would constitute a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances. According to the court, the PHA’s determination couldn’t be deemed rational in light of the absence of a proper inquiry and an opportunity to be heard on the reasonable accommodation issue.
- In re Jonas Aponte v. Olatoye, April 2016