fall within the definition of familial status. Thus, plaintiffs are members of a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. 42 U.S.C. § 3604.
Next, the plaintiffs must show they applied for and were qualified to rent the apartment and were denied such a rental. Plaintiffs ability to qualify for the apartment hinges on the interpretation of the term "sleeping rooms" in the Code.
Plaintiffs contend that the rooms designated "living room" and "dining room" may be considered sleeping rooms, thereby setting the maximum occupancy of the premises at seven (7). Defendants dispute this interpretation and assert that both of these rooms may not be considered "sleeping rooms", thus causing the plaintiffs occupation of the apartment to violate the Code. While a literal but clearly abnormal interpretation of the Village Code might support the plaintiffs' argument, defendants have submitted a letter from the Village of Patchogue stating that the plaintiffs are in fact in violation of the Code.
Def.Ex. C. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this motion we will assume that the plaintiffs' interpretation of the Code is correct (although the Village is on record that such an interpretation is incorrect), and, as a result, plaintiffs are qualified to lease the apartment. Thus, for the purposes of this discussion we assume that the plaintiffs have made a prima facie showing of a valid Fair Housing Act claim.
Once a prima facie showing is made, the defendants must show that their actions were based on non-discriminatory factors. The defendants advance four grounds for seeking the plaintiffs' eviction: (1) plaintiffs lied on their application about the number of occupants (fraud in the inception); (2) the plaintiffs lied about the status of Mrs. Laurenti's employment (id.); (3) six occupants in the apartment would violate the Code; and (4) six occupants violates the by-laws of the co-op. Plaintiffs assert that these proffered reasons are merely pretextual, masking the defendants actual motive to discriminate against families with four children. However, the evidence presently before the Court demonstrates that the defendants have valid non-discriminatory reasons to seek plaintiffs eviction and it is unlikely that plaintiffs will be able to prove otherwise at trial.
Water's Edge Habitat requires a prospective sublessee to apply to the co-op's board of directors for approval. Plaintiffs were told to appear at the application interview with all those individuals who would be occupying the apartment. Instead of appearing with all six would-be-occupants, plaintiffs appeared with only two of their four children. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the plaintiffs informed the interviewer that less than all occupants were present and the plaintiffs offer no excuse for acting in such an apparently deceptive manner.
Prior to the interview, Mr. Laurenti completed the lease application. It is uncontroverted that he listed, at most, the names of only three of his four children in the area designated "other residents". Mr. Laurenti states that he did not list the fourth child, Jordan, because "I did not have time to do so." Pl.Ex. J, P 5. If there be a sham in this case it is this proffered excuse. It is incomprehensible to this Court how Mr. Laurenti could possibly not have the time to write six more letters (Jordan) on the application. Further, if such were the case and plaintiffs had no deceitful motives, certainly they would have used the interview to inform the defendants of this omission. Plaintiffs, however, made no effort to dispel any confusion they had caused. In light of the plaintiffs' failure to appear with all would-be occupants and failure to represent to the interviewer the true number of "other residents", it is apparent to the Court that the plaintiffs must have intentionally omitted the name of the fourth child. It is elementary that fraud in the inception of any agreement is a sufficient ground for the person deceived to vitiate the deal.
Defendants contend that because only two children appeared at the interview, and three names were listed on the application, they assumed that the three names "Vanessa Gabrielle Leah" were actually the names of only two children, "Vanessa Gabrielle" and "Leah". Defendants offer the application itself showing that the children's ages were listed "6-7" in further support of the defendants' view that the listed names were in fact only two people. Mr. Laurenti does not recall listing any of the childrens' ages on the application and alleges that the "6-7" notation was made by the defendants. However, in light of his other apparently deceptive acts, his lack of recollection is far less credible than defendants' explanation.
Additionally, defendants contend that plaintiffs made a second misrepresentation on their application: that Michelle Laurenti was employed by the Town of Brookhaven. An August 31, 1992, letter from the Town of Brookhaven to defendant Management Consultants states that Mrs. Laurenti is no longer employed by the Town. Def. Ex. C. Apparently, Mrs. Laurenti had not worked since June 18, 1992, because she requested the summer months off. It is unclear when she was terminated from her position; Mrs. Laurenti claims she was not notified of her termination until September, but clearly she had been let go by, at the latest, August 31, and in all probability was notified earlier.
The Court is unable from the evidence before it to determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether Mrs. Laurenti was knowingly misrepresenting her employment status on her application. However, there certainly exists enough evidence from which the defendants could reasonably conclude she had misrepresented her employment status to them.
In support of their assertion that these misrepresentations were the actual basis for withdrawing approval of plaintiffs application, the defendants offer a clause in the application itself, which states that any misrepresentations made on the application will cause the application to be rejected. Paragraph 2, on the first page states:
"I understand that the acceptance for the purchase/lease is conditioned upon the truth and accuracy of this application and upon the approval of the Board of Directors/Manager. Occupancy prior to approval is prohibited. Any misrepresentation or falsification of information on these forms will result in the automatic rejection of this application."
In addition to the misrepresentations, defendants claim to be acting in accordance with the Village Code. Although, as we stated above, the Court need not determine the proper interpretation of the Code at this time, it is clear from the September 21, 1992, letter from the Village of Patchogue that the defendants could and did reasonably believe that six occupants would violate the Village Code. The plaintiffs are not disputing the legality of the Code itself or alleging that the Code effectively discriminates against families, rather they are alleging that the defendants acted with a discriminatory purpose. It is unlikely that the plaintiffs can show that the defendants' actions were merely a pretext for discrimination when the defendants reasonably believed those actions were in accordance with the Village Code.
Finally, defendants claim to be acting in accordance with the by-laws of the co-op. This claim appears to be undisputed. In fact, in the plaintiffs' complaint they allege "on information and belief that the by-laws of the co-op originally limited a two bedroom apartment to three occupants and in or about September, 1992, the by-laws were amended to allow two adults and two children in a two-bedroom apartment." Complaint P 30. With this allegation plaintiffs are admitting knowledge that the defendants' actions were in accordance with the by-laws and not merely a pretext.
In fact, the only evidence supporting plaintiffs' allegations of discrimination is that the defendants allegedly told the plaintiffs that approval was withdrawn because plaintiffs "had four children". Even if this statement was made, which defendants vigorously dispute, it is fully consistent with the defendants' position that it was the misrepresentation regarding the number of children who would occupy the apartment and the violation of the by-laws and Village Code which caused the withdrawal of its approval of the application.
In sum, plaintiffs assert that it was the number of children, not the number of occupants which caused the defendants to seek their eviction. However, this Court finds it unlikely that plaintiffs will be able to succeed on the merits with respect to this argument or that there is a serious question as to the merits of plaintiffs' claim. The defendants have shown that it is likely that they sought the plaintiffs' eviction for valid nondiscriminatory reasons, namely the plaintiffs' violations and misrepresentations regarding the number of occupants in the apartment. Thus, plaintiffs motion for preliminary injunction must be, and is hereby, denied. The Court makes no finding regarding the merits of defendants' eviction proceedings in State Court. Unlike that proceeding, the matter before this Court revolves around plaintiffs' ability to show that the defendants discriminated against plaintiffs based on the number of children in their family. The Court's decision is limited to the issues before it: whether plaintiffs are likely to succeed in an action under the Fair Housing Act, where it is necessary to show that they were victims of discrimination. As is stated above, plaintiffs have failed to convince the Court that a preliminary injunction is warranted, and the same is hereby denied.
Thomas C. Platt
Chief Judge, U.S.D.C.
Dated: Uniondale, New York
June 28, 1993