VOLS Elderly Project case example: Mr. Rivera

June 27, 2019

Following is a case example that highlights the work of the VOLS Elderly Project to help New York’s low-income seniors to age in place. VOLS is pleased to expand our work with older veterans of military service, like Mr. Rivera, with support from the New York Community Trust. Note that “Mr. Rivera” is an alias name used for this blog post to protect privacy.

 

No New Yorker should fear homelessness because they rely on income or a rental subsidy from a government program to help pay their rent. 

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits landlords from discriminating against current and prospective tenants based on the tenant’s “lawful source of income.” It is illegal for a landlord to refuse rental or to put up barriers before a tenant because they are reliant on benefit or subsidy to help them pay the rent. This includes any public assistance or housing subsidy from a federal, state, or local program. 

Often, “lawful source of income” discrimination is easy to spot. If a landlord or real estate broker advertises an apartment and says “no vouchers” or “no programs” – this is a clear violation of the law. Other times, landlords are much more insidious in their discrimination. Seniors who have lived in the same apartment for decades can fall prey to these illegal tactics.

Recently, the Volunteers of Legal Services (VOLS) Elderly Project represented one of these seniors, alongside co-counsel from the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP. 

On February 27, 2019, we filed a lawsuit in the New York Country Supreme Court, alleging source of income discrimination against the landlord of Mr. Rivera, a 64-year old Vietnam era veteran. Our client lived in the same rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan since 1963. After the passing of his family, the tenant’s rent subsumed nearly his entire income from his Veterans Administration service-connected disability benefits and his pension from time working for the United States Postal Service. 

To remain in his apartment by continuing to receive Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption benefits (SCRIE) from the government, our client needed the landlord’s cooperation to acknowledge his tenancy after his family member passed. Unfortunately, the landlord refused to help their tenant of over 53 years and created road blocks to the process, causing the application for SCRIE benefits to be denied. 

VOLS believed that the landlord’s failure to cooperate with the SCRIE application process violated the New York City Human Rights Law and that the repeated and unwanted “buy-out” offers violated the anti-tenant harassment statute. 

After taking steps to avoid litigation, VOLS filed the lawsuit, the matter was soon settled on May 1, 2019. The landlord conceded that they were required to cooperate with Mr. Rivera’s SCRIE application and they were not entitled to any increase in his rent. Mr. Rivera is able to stay in his home.

VOLS would like to thank John M. Aerni, partner at Alston & Bird and longtime VOLS Board Member, and Jenna Polivy, senior associate at Alston & Bird, for serving as co-counsel on this matter.

If you are working with or know a senior who is facing source of income discrimination in housing and they want to speak with an attorney, please send them to one of our legal clinics or refer them directly to VOLS.