FEDERAL COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF WIDOW IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CASE

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK — Federal District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt of the Eastern District Court of New York issued a decision in Defendants’ Motion seeking Summary Judgment, finding that the defendants, including Jay Levy, violated the Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law by refusing to rent Ms. Sharon Johnson and her late husband, Ennis Johnson, an apartment because of her husband’s illness. This decision paves the way for the case to be presented to a jury that will hear evidence in this housing discrimination case.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were living in an apartment in Baldwin until January 5, 2009, when it was destroyed by a fire. After living in motels, they were told by a caseworker from the Nassau County Department of Social Services (DSS) that they were eligible for assistance in securing permanent housing. The agency would issue them a check to cover the first month’s rent, a security deposit and a broker’s fee.

On January 14, 2009, Mr. Levy placed an ad for one-bedroom apartments for rent at $1,225 or $1,325 a month at a property located at 51 Smith Street in Merrick. Ms. Johnson called Mr. Levy, who referred her to the superintendent. She was told there was an apartment available for $1,375 a month. After viewing the apartment, she told Mr. Levy that they were interested in renting the apartment. Mr. Levy asked for the personal information on the one whose name would be on the lease. She gave Mr. Levy her husband’s personal information. Mr. Levy also said a credit check will be performed on Mr. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson gave permission to do so.

Mr. Levy sent an offer for the more expensive apartment to Ms. Johnson, which was provided to DSS. Mrs. Johnson gave the letter to DSS, which they determined that the monthly rent was too high compared with the couple’s monthly income. The defendants later claimed that Mr. Johnson did not meet the criteria needed to rent the apartment but Mrs. Johnson testified that they were eligible for public assistance for the security deposit and the first month’s rent, which needed to be guaranteed by a governmental agency.

The pretrial testimony shows that Mr. Johnson later called Mr. Levy and asked if there were any other apartments that were less expensive. He said there was one for $1,275 a month. On January 26, 2009, Mr. Levy sent them an amended offer and sent an additional copy of the letter to DSS. On February 4, 2009, Ms. Johnson called Mr. Levy to let him know she was picking up the checks. Mr. Levy said he was out of the state and asked his assistant, Sue Campbell, to meet Ms. Johnson at DSS to sign the lease agreement and pick up the checks.

Ms. Johnson asked Ms. Campbell to drive her to the bank to get paperwork notarized. During that time, Ms. Campbell was informed that Mr. Johnson was at a doctor’s appointment, and his HIV-positive status was discussed for the first time.

While Ms. Johnson was at the bank, Ms. Campbell called Mr. Levy and disclosed Mr. Johnson’s medical condition. After the phone call, Ms. Campbell told Ms. Johnson that Mr. Levy would not rent the apartment to her and her husband. Ms. Johnson testified that Mr. Levy would not rent to them because Mr. Johnson was HIV-positive and Mrs. Johnson was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Mr. Levy later claimed, for the first time, that the Johnsons were being denied the apartment because they were untruthful about getting the rent guaranteed from a governmental agency and the real reason they did not get the apartment was because the couple wanted to bring a cat into the apartment, which was not allowed.

On July 14, 2010, the Plaintiffs commenced action against the Defendants — Jay and Diane Levy, Sue Campbell and Smith Street — claiming the Defendants violated the Fair Housing Act and the NYSHRL. On October 23, 2015, Justice Arthur D. Spatt, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs. The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington continues to move this case toward a trial to be held in Central Islip, New York.

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About The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington

The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a well-respected litigation firm; with an office in Hempstead, Long Island. Our focus is primarily in the area of civil rights, voting rights, employment discrimination, police misconduct, personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death and criminal law. However, the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a full service law firm handling matters in numerous areas of law and providing a wide range of services from contract formation to litigation and trial practice. It is the largest African-American-owned law firm on Long Island and has been designated by the New York Law Journal as one of the top minority-owned firms in the state of New York. For more information, call (516) 489-6959 or visit www.brewingtonlaw.com.