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Real Estate Firms, Landlord Sued for Discriminating Against Disabled New Yorkers Living With AIDS

By Julie Turkewitz

August 26, 2011

Housing Works and the Fair Housing Justice Center announced the filing of a lawsuit today in federal district court against four New York City realty companies and one landlord for violating the civil rights of disabled New York City residents living with AIDS.

The lawsuit alleges that the five defendant companies discriminated against prospective renters with HIV/AIDS, including a disabled man who has a monthly housing subsidy from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to pay his rent. Such discrimination is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act and New York City's Human Rights Law.

The defendants are Manhattan Apartments, Abba Realty Associates, Soni Realty, Askarinam Realty and Kimberly Place Realty. Collectively, these companies control access to thousands of rental units in New York City.

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) conducted a testing investigation exposing the discriminatory practices, which, according to the complaint, include refusing to show apartments, segregating listings according to source of income, and telling prospective renters that landlords will not rent to disabled people who do not work and to renters with HASA housing subsidies. FHJC is a co-plaintiff in the case, along with the man who was repeatedly and wrongfully denied housing by the defendants.

Stable housing is critical to the health and well-being of people living with AIDS. More than 40,000 New Yorkers affected by AIDS depend on HASA rental assistance in order to avoid homelessness.

When the New York City man living with AIDS explained to each of the companies that he was disabled and receiving a HASA rent subsidy, they refused to work with him or restricted his access to listings. Follow-up investigation by trained testers from FHJC confirmed the defendants' discriminatory practices.

Disability discrimination has long been prohibited under federal, state, and local law. And in 2008, the City Council passed Local Law 10, prohibiting landlords and their agents from discriminating based on lawful source of income, such as HASA rent subsidies and Section 8 vouchers.

"This case reveals that notwithstanding these laws, companies blatantly discriminate against indigent, disabled individuals who rely on government subsidies to pay their rents," said Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney at Housing Works. "It's hard enough for such individuals to find affordable housing in New York City without facing this crushing and widespread discrimination."

Commenting on the lawsuit, FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, "It is both tragic and deplorable that, in 2011, licensed real estate professionals flagrantly deny housing to one of the most vulnerable populations in our community. HASA rental subsidies provide a vital safety net for New Yorkers living with AIDS who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The FHJC will continue to dismantle these barriers to housing choice so that people with disabilities need not endure the insult, expense, and indignity of discrimination."

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, the conduct of the five defendant companies was "willful, intentional and in reckless disregard of the Plaintiffs' civil rights." The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an order requiring the companies to implement nondiscrimination policies and employee training in accordance with federal and city civil/human rights laws.

The plaintiffs are represented by Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney at Housing Works and Diane L. Houk with the law firm of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

FHJC is a New York City-based non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, promoting open and inclusive communities, and strengthening fair housing enforcement. Individuals who encounter illegal housing discrimination are encouraged to call the FHJC for assistance at 212-400-8201.




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