Issue of Landlord Wrongfully Denying Apartment after Discovering Husband Was HIV-Positive is a Jury Question
October 29, 2015

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt of the Eastern District Court of New York issued a decision in Defendants’ Motion seeking Summary Judgment, finding that the Defendants’ attempt to avoid responsibility for fair housing violations is denied. This included Defendants who must stand to answer the charge that they violated the Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law by refusing to rent to the Plaintiff and her late husband an apartment because of her husband’s illness. This decision paves the way for the case to be presented to a jury that will hear evidence in this housing discrimination case.

The Plaintiff and her husband were living in an apartment in Baldwin until January 5, 2009, when it was destroyed by a fire. After living in motels, they were told by a caseworker from the Nassau County Department of Social Services (DSS) that they were eligible for assistance in securing permanent housing. The agency would issue them a check to cover the first month’s rent, a security deposit and a broker’s fee.

On January 14, 2009, the Defendant placed an ad for one-bedroom apartments for rent at $1,225 or $1,325 a month at a property located at 51 Smith Street in Merrick. The Plaintiff called the defendant, who referred her to the superintendent. She was told there was an apartment available for $1,375 a month. After viewing the apartment, she told the Defendant that they were interested in renting the apartment. The Defendant asked for the personal information on the one whose name would be on the lease. She gave the Defendant her husband’s personal information. The Defendant also said a credit check will be performed on Plaintiff's husband. The Plaintiff gave permission to do so.

The Defendant sent an offer for the more expensive apartment to her, which was provided to DSS. The Plaintiff gave the letter to DSS, which they determined that the monthly rent was too high compared with the couple’s monthly income. The Defendants later claimed that the Plaintiff's husband did not meet the criteria needed to rent the apartment but the Plaintiff testified that they were eligible for public assistance for the security deposit and the first month’s rent, which needed to be guaranteed by a governmental agency.

The pretrial testimony shows that the Plaintiff's husband later called the Defendant and asked if there were any other apartments that were less expensive. He said there was one for $1,275 a month. On January 26, 2009, the Defendant sent the couple an amended offer and sent an additional copy of the letter to DSS. On February 4, 2009, the Plaintiff called the defendant to let him know she was picking up the checks. The Defendant said he was out of the state and asked his assistant to meet the Plaintiff at DSS to sign the lease agreement and pick up the checks.

The Plaintiff asked the Defendant's assistant to drive her to the bank to get paperwork notarized. During that time the Defendant's assistant was informed that the Plaintiff's husband was at a doctor’s appointment, and his HIV positive status was discussed for the first time.

While the Plaintiff was at the bank, the Defendant's assistant called the Defendant and disclosed the Plaintiff's husband’s medical condition. After the phone call, the Defendant's assistant told the Plaintiff that the Defendant would not rent the apartment to her and her husband. The Plaintiff testified that the Defendant would not rent to them because her husband was HIV-positive and the Plaintiff was an alcoholic and a drug addict. The Defendant later claimed, for the first time, that the couple were being denied the apartment because they were untruthful about getting the rent guaranteed from a governmental agency and the real reason they did not get the apartment was because they wanted to bring a cat into the apartment, which was not allowed.

On July 14, 2010, the Plaintiffs commenced action against the Defendants claiming the Defendants violated the Fair Housing Act and the NYSHRL. On October 23, 2015, Justice Arthur D. Spatt, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, ruled that the claims of discriminatory housing violations made by the plaintiffs will go forward against the Defendant. The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington continues to move this case toward a trial to be held in Central Islip, New York.