The Fair Housing Act case 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.
In the suit, 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.
Relman Colfax filed this lawsuit on Francis's behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Endres, Kings Park Manor, and property manager Corrine Downing. The district court entered a default judgment against Endres, but it dismissed Francis's other claims, reasoning that a landlord has no duty to act.
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 turn a selective blind eye to this misconduct.
The Second Circuit decision clears the way for Francis’s suit to go forward. But its impact may be felt more widely, because it makes clear 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.”
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.)
--- F.3d ----, 2019 WL 6646495 (2d Cir. Dec. 6, 2019)
91 F. Supp. 3d 420 (E.D.N.Y. 2015), aff'd in part, vacated in part, remanded, --- F.3d ----, 2019 WL 6646495 (2d Cir. Dec. 6, 2019)