This Fair Housing Act case regarding neighbor-on-neighbor racial harassment is now being heard en banc by the full Second Circuit. Oral argument is scheduled for September 2020.
The litigation arose out of a rental agreement Donahue Francis signed with Kings Park Manor in 2010. Shortly after moving in, the complaint alleges, a neighbor named Raymond Endres began to subject him to racial harassment and abuse. This discriminatory conduct, which included repeated use of the N-word and at least one death threat, ultimately led to Endres being charged with, and pleading guilty to, a state hate crime.
Francis alleges that, although both he and the police repeatedly told building management of this conduct, management did nothing other than advise him to continue calling the police. As a result, Francis feared for his safety for the several months of Endres’s campaign, and experienced significant emotional distress until Endres left Kings Park Manor in January 2013.
On Francis’s behalf, Relman Colfax filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Endres, Kings Park Manor, and a property manager, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and New York State law. The district court entered a default judgment against Endres, but dismissed his federal claims, reasoning that a landlord has no federal-law duty to respond to one tenant’s discriminatory harassment of another.
A panel of the Second Circuit reversed. It held that the Fair Housing Act requires a landlord to take racial harassment as seriously as it takes other tenant misconduct and that it constitutes intentional discrimination for a landlord to selectively ignore racial misconduct. The panel held that the Fair Housing Act’s anti-discrimination requirement extends to the ongoing relationship between landlord and tenant, rather than applying only to the rental transaction or events that effectively evict the tenant (as the defendants argued). As the court put it: “With the objective of building a racially integrated society in mind, it would make no sense for Congress to require landlords to rent homes without regard to race but then permit them to harass or otherwise discriminate against tenants because of race.”
The full Second Circuit has voted to rehear the case en banc. Oral argument has been scheduled for September 24. Numerous amicus briefs have been filed, mostly in support of Francis’s position.
Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., No. 14-cv-3555 (E.D.N.Y.)
Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., No. 15-1823 (2d Cir.)
944 F.3d 370 (2d Cir. 2019)
91 F. Supp. 3d 420 (E.D.N.Y. 2015)