In a decision announced this week, State Supreme Court Justice Patrick NeMoyer has found that the absentee owners and managers of a North Buffalo rental property discriminated due to source of income in violation of the City of Buffalo’s Fair Housing Ordinance. This was the first case litigated under the 2006 law.
The case was filed on February 29, 2008 by Housing Opportunities Made Equal, whose investigation had revealed that Naima Stewart had been denied an apartment by University Property Management upon the instructions of California landlord Donald Peterson because Ms. Stewart was a low-income person with a Section 8 housing voucher, which would help her pay the rent.
In December 2007 Ms. Stewart, a student, had attempted to rent one of several apartments on Huntington Avenue listed by the defendants. After Ms. Stewart was refused, she turned to HOME which began an investigation. The court found that whereas an investigator without a housing voucher was given two tours of the premises, another HOME investigator who identified herself as a Section 8 participant was refused and told that the owner no longer accepted recipients of housing assistance as tenants.
The court also affirmed the legal standing of HOME to bring a claim as an “aggrieved party” under the Buffalo ordinance, citing the 1982 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman,which had established the right of fair housing organizations to bring claims under the federal Fair Housing Act.
“This decision is a significant victory for fair housing in Buffalo,” said Scott W. Gehl, executive director of HOME. “It took five legislative campaigns waged over 38 years for the City of Good Neighbors to pass a fair housing law. Judge NeMoyer’s ruling has helped make real the promise of fair housing for Ms. Stewart and others denied housing due to their source of income.”
Plaintiff Stewart was represented by Grace Andriette and Bernadine Butler of Neighborhood Legal Services while HOME was represented by Joseph Kelemen of the Western New York Law Center. The Court has scheduled another proceeding to consider the issue of damages.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal is a civil rights organization whose mission is to promote the value of diversity and assure the people of Western New York an equal opportunity to live in housing and communities of their choice.