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Alston v. Starrett City, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

April 5, 2018

Regina Alston, et al., Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
Starrett City, Inc., et al., Defendants-Appellants. The City of New York, Amicus Curiae.

          Horing Welikson & Rosen, P.C., Williston Park (Niles C. Welikson of counsel), for appellants.

          The Legal Aid Society, New York (Robert Desir, Judith Goldiner, Joshua Goldstein and Beth Hofmeister of counsel), and Mayer Brown LLP, New York (Jason I. Kirschner, Joaquin M. C de Baca, Mark G. Hanchet, Michael E. Rayfield, Noah Liben and Kevin C. Kelly of counsel), for respondents.

          Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, New York (Barbara Graves-Poller, Aaron Bloom and Doris Bernhardt of counsel), for amicus curiae.

          John W. Sweeny, Jr. J.P. Sallie Manzanet-Daniels Troy K. Webber Marcy L. Kahn Peter H. Moulton, JJ.

          SWEENY, J.

         Defendants appeal from the order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Shlomo Hagler, J.), entered July 7, 2016, which granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to the extent of directing defendants to process and respond to plaintiff Sandra Vaughn-Cooke's application for an apartment in defendants' housing complex, and denied defendants' CPLR 3211 motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.

         This case involves the interplay of several statutes that constitute "[t]he patchwork of rent control legislation" at the federal, state and city levels (Matter of 89 Christopher v Joy, 35 N.Y.2d 213, 220 [1974]). The issue before us is whether certain provisions of the City of New York's Living in Communities (LINC) Program violates New York State's Urstadt Law. For the reasons that follow, we hold that defendants correctly contend that the rider provisions contained in the LINC leases do violate the Urstadt Law.

         We begin our analysis by reviewing the relevant portions of the statutes and regulations applicable to this case.

         In 1971, the State Legislature enacted what is commonly referred to as the Urstadt Law (L 1971, ch 372, as amended by L 1971, ch 1012 [Unconsolidated Laws § 8605]). This statute amended the Local Emergency Housing Rent Control Act (LEHRCA) and provides, in relevant part:

"[N]o local law or ordinance shall hereafter provide for the regulation and control of residential rents and eviction in respect of any housing accommodations which are (1) presently exempt from such regulation and control or (2) hereafter decontrolled either by operation of law or by a city housing rent agency, by order or otherwise. No housing accommodations presently subject to regulation and control pursuant to local laws or ordinances adopted or amended under authority of this subdivision shall hereafter be by local law or ordinance or by rule or regulation which has not been theretofore approved by the state commissioner of housing and community renewal subjected to more stringent or restrictive provisions of regulation and control than those presently in effect.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, ... a city having a population of one million or more shall not, either through its local legislative body or otherwise, adopt or amend local laws or ordinances with respect to the regulation and control of residential rents and eviction, including but not limited to provision for the establishment and adjustment of rents [or] the regulation of evictions...."

         The "Urstadt Law was intended to check City attempts, whether by local law or regulation, to expand the set of buildings subject to rent control or stabilization, and particularly to do so in the teeth of State enactments aimed at achieving the opposite effect" (City of New York v New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 97 N.Y.2d 216, 227 [2001]).

         On March 26, 2008, the New York City Human Rights Law (§ 8-101 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) was amended by Local Law 10 to ban discrimination by landlords against tenants based on their lawful source of income, including Section 8 federal housing vouchers. "Lawful source of income" is defined to "include income derived from social security, or any form of federal, state or local public assistance or housing assistance including section 8 vouchers" (Administrative Code § 8-102[25]).

         Administrative Code § 8-107(5)(a)(1)(a) makes it unlawful "[t]o refuse to... rent, lease, approve the... or otherwise deny to or withhold from any persons or group of persons such a housing accommodation or any interest therein... because of any lawful source of income of such person or persons." Furthermore, § 8-107(5)(a)(1)(b) makes it unlawful "[t]o discriminate against "[any person]... because of any lawful source of income of such person... in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the... rental or lease of any ...


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