At both companies, covert testers deployed by the Fair Housing Justice Center verified Short's experience, the judge said. Abba'srepresentatives were caught on tape and quoted in Conti's opinion in
Short v. Manhattan Apartments
, 11-cv-5989,Short testified, "I felt discouraged. I felt humiliated."The claims rejected by Conti came under the Fair Housing Act. 42 U.S.C. §§3604(c) (d) and (f), as the judge ruled the plaintiffs failedto make a prima facie case of disability discrimination because they did not produce statistical evidence of disparate treatment.The judge said that, "At the behest of landlords with which it works, MA generally will not assist prospective tenants" unless they earn40 to 50 percent of the monthly rent or have a guarantor who earns more. He said the plaintiffs "have offered no evidence that thesepolicies disproportionately affect persons with disabilities."While disability is a protected status under the FHA, Conti said, source of income is not.The claims against Abba were based in part on the statements of its employee about "working people," which the judge said "do notindicate a preference based on any of the protected categories identified in the statute."For the same reason, the disability discrimination claims under the city's Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §8-107(5)(c),must fail, Conti said.
But on source-of-income discrimination, Conti said the evidence was clear that Manhattan Apartments told Short it didn't take clientsfrom rental assistance programs, and that account was "undisputed and corroborated" by the covert testers.Moreover, it became a "designated fact" that "multiple landlords instructed MA not to assist persons with government housingsubsidies" when, in October, Southern District Judge Kimba Wood(See Profile)sanctioned Manhattan Apartments for the failure of its proprietor, Jerry Weinstein, to comply with court orders to produce responsive documents in the case, including screen shots of rental listings in Manhattan Apartments' computer database showing landlords' "directions and directives."Wood also ordered Manhattan Apartments to pay Short and the Fair Housing Justice Center $23,100 in legal fees(NYLJ, Oct. 18). As for Abba, Conti said of the taped statements about HASA tenants and other rejected government-subsidized tenants: "in thecontext of Plaintiffs' claims for source-of-income discrimination, such evidence is not just a 'thick cloud of smoke,' it is a smokinggun."The statements also prompted the judge to reject an argument by Abba that bureaucratic delays in HASA getting subsidies torecipients and then to landlords justify not accepting "program" tenants."Such broad and sweeping statements are direct evidence of a violation of the NYCHRL's provisions concerning source-of-incomediscrimination, no matter how broadly or narrowly those provisions are construed," he said.He found "unavailing" the arguments of both Abba and Manhattan Apartments that they were merely conveying truthful informationabout landlord rental policies.Manhattan Apartments was represented by David Wims, a Brooklyn solo practitioner.Wims said he wanted to speak with his client about the options going forward, because either side could appeal the part of the rulingit lost."We're gong to try and resolve it," Wims said. "I'm going to strongly advise my client that we discuss with the plaintiffs a resolution inlight of an appeal and in lieu of plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees. We'd like to stop the parties from spending the amount of moneythey are spending on this litigation. This case really should have been settled from the outset." Abba Realty Associates was represented by Jay Itkowitz of Itkowitz PLLC, a three-partner, 13-lawyer firm in Manhattan.
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