Lawsuit against LeFrak to move forward: Judge

Lawsuit against LeFrak to move forward: Judge
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

A woman living with HIV/AIDS will be allowed to proceed with her discrimination lawsuit against the LeFrak Organization after a federal judge last week denied the landlord’s motion to dismiss the case.

Earlier this year Lorelei Chacon, 37, who receives city housing subsidies for those living with HIV/AIDS, and the Fair Housing Justice Center filed a claim under the federal Fair Housing Act alleging LeFrak discriminated against her when she sought an apartment at LeFrak City in Corona in 2011.

Chacon is a client of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, a subdivision of the city Human Resources Administration, which pays brokers’ fees, security deposits and rent to landlords in the five boroughs on behalf of its clients.

As a policy, though, HASA does not provide landlords with documentation confirming it will pay rent for apartment seekers.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2011 Chacon called LeFrak looking to rent an apartment for about $1,100 a month, the cost of which HASA would cover.

But when she told the rental office HASA would be paying her rent directly, she was allegedly directed to go to a 12th-floor office at LeFrak’s headquarters, at 97-77 Queens Blvd., where she spoke with a representative through a glass window and was required to show documentation as to how she would pay for the apartment.

Chacon spoke with her case manager at HASA, who told LeFrak it did not provide such documentation, and the landlord canceled her application.

The lawsuit alleges that LeFrak treats HASA applicants differently than apartment seekers who pay their own rent, but the landlord countered that it asks all applicants for proof of income, and argued that Chacon should have sued HASA for refusing to provide documentation.

“HASA inexplicably refuses to provide its clients with documentation confirming their housing subsidies,” LeFrak’s lawyers wrote in an August motion to dismiss. “If plaintiffs have been aggrieved by the existence of that agency’s policy — which is entirely outside of LeFrak’s control — then HASA is the proper target.”

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan, however, disagreed with LeFrak on a technical issue, finding the landlord had not adequately argued that HASA should be a party to the lawsuit.

“Defendants’ remaining argument, and one on which they frame their entire motion to dismiss, is that LeFrak’s policy is not the cause of any disparate impact because HASA’s refusal to provide sum certain letters is the true cause of the problem. Defendants contend that the plaintiffs sued the wrong party,” she wrote in a Dec. 13 order. “LeFrak does not assert that HASA is a necessary party, and thus LeFrak’s argument does not entitle it to dismissal of the action.”

Chacon and the Fair Housing Justice Center are suing for injunctive relief and compensatory damages.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.