Court Revives Bias Case Against Realty Group

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A real estate agency must face claims from tenants who say they faced discrimination because of an epileptic and autistic child, the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday.
     Heidi and Juan Rodriguez say they had spent two years in a Saugerties, N.Y., home when their landlord listed the property for sale with Village Green Realty in late 2010.
     Since the buyer had plans to raise the rent, Village Green agent Blanca Aponte informed the Rodriguezes via letter on Jan. 20, 2011, that they had to either accept the new terms or move out by March 15.
     As the sale went forward, with an expected closing date in early March, the Rodriguezes ignored repeated inquiries about the new lease terms.
     On Feb. 6, two days after receiving a text from Aponte, the couple’s daughter, a fifth grader identified in the court record by her initials, suffered two grand mal seizures.
     From the hospital, A.R.’s mother called the landlord to say it was “not the time” to negotiate with Aponte.
     The agent nevertheless texted for an update the next day.
     Aponte claimed to be “sympathetic” to the family’s situation but said she would “be proceeding with legal action to remove you from [the] premises,” according to the text message, as described in the Second Circuit ruling.
     “We are not leaving,” Rodriguez replied. “Where do you want us to go with a sick child?”
     When Aponte pointed out that she was still waiting on their acceptance of the new owner’s rental terms, Rodriguez brought up the “poorly maintained icy road” in front of the house.
     Rodriguez said that safety hazard could pose an obstacle for “ambulance for my daughter if needed.”
     A.R. suffered another seizure on Feb. 16, and Aponte sent a text that evening reporting that “the new owner has decided not to continue to rent to you because your daughter should be in a more convenient location to medical treatment.”
     On Feb. 23, Aponte called the emergency vehicle issue a “major concern as to liability.”
     The Rodriguezes say they took the hint and moved out that September, paying the higher rent Aponte requested in the meantime. They sued for violations of the Fair Housing Act, but U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy granted Village Green and Aponte summary judgment based on the supposedly insufficient evidence about A.R.’s disability.
     A three-judge panel with the Second Circuit unanimously reversed Tuesday.
     “According to Ms. Rodriguez, A.R. began experiencing petit mal seizures in August or September 2010, when A.R. was entering fifth grade,” Judge Christopher Droney wrote for the court. “Ms. Rodriguez testified that A.R. received special academic services throughout fifth grade, and that her grades in sixth grade – while initially good – ‘kept going considerably lower.’ … By the time A.R. reached seventh grade in September 2012, she was still having petit mal seizures and still struggling with school. This testimony therefore also demonstrates the magnitude of A.R.’s impairment in the area of learning.”
     Moreover, Aponte’s text messages suggest that the realtor believed A.R. to be disabled, the court found.
     “Arguably, Aponte expresses through these messages a belief that, because of her epilepsy, A.R. could only live close to facilities providing medical treatment,” the 64-page opinion states. “If true, this could certainly be a perceived substantial limitation on A.R.’s ability to obtain housing.
     Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston and U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, sitting by designation from the Southern District of New York, joined the opinion.
     Lawyers for the parties have not returned a request for comment.

%d bloggers like this: