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Hostos v. 3225 Realty Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 25, 2018

JULIO HOSTOS, Plaintiff,
v.
3225 REALTY CORPORATION and MARINA SMIKUN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Julio Hostos alleges that Defendants violated his rights to a reasonable accommodation for his disability under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”) and the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         The following facts are drawn from the parties' Rule 56.1 statements, and are not subject to a genuine dispute unless otherwise noted. Defendants own a walk-up residential apartment building in the Bronx (“the Property”). (Dkt. No. 53 (“CSOF”) ¶ 1.) Plaintiff Julio Hostos is a tenant at the Property. (CSOF ¶ 34.) According to his declaration, Hostos lives in a third-floor apartment with his roommate, Roxanne Artuz, and her granddaughter.[1] (Dkt. No. 51-9 ¶¶ 1-3.) Hostos suffers from disabilities including arthritis, deep vein thrombosis, hypertension, asthma, obesity, back pain, and mood disorder. (CSOF ¶ 74.) These disabilities make it difficult and dangerous for him to walk up and down the stairs. (CSOF ¶ 73.)[2]

         Hostos requested a reasonable accommodation of his disability in a letter dated August 12, 2016; the parties dispute whether he made any other prior requests. (CSOF ¶ 46.) Due to his difficulty climbing up and down the three flights of stairs to his apartment, Hostos sought to move to an apartment on a lower floor. (Dkt. No. 51-3 at 6.)

         At some point-the parties dispute the year-Defendants decided to convert all of the ground floor apartments into commercial space. (CSOF ¶ 3.) The ground-floor tenants moved out, and Defendants kept the units vacant. (CSOF ¶¶ 7-10.) Defendants hired an architect, who drafted plans in 2016 to convert the apartments into commercial space. (CSOF ¶ 13.) Defendants demolished the interior of the ground floor and were granted a permit to begin converting it to commercial use. (CSOF ¶¶ 24-26.) Currently, no residential apartments exist on the ground floor. (CSOF ¶ 56.)

         In August 2017, Plaintiff filed this suit, alleging disability discrimination under federal, state, and municipal law. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff later moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing Defendants from renting any “rent-stabilized apartments on the ground floor” of the Property. (Dkt. No. 14-1 at 5.) After an evidentiary hearing, the Court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction. (Dkt. No. 36.) Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 6, 2017. (Dkt No. 42.) Defendants now move for summary judgment.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009).

         On summary judgment, the party bearing the burden of proof at trial must provide evidence on each element of its claim or defense. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322- 23 (1986). “If the party with the burden of proof makes the requisite initial showing, the burden shifts to the opposing party to identify specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial, i.e., that reasonable jurors could differ about the evidence.” Clopay Plastic Prods. Co. v. Excelsior Packaging Grp., Inc., No. 12 Civ. 5262, 2014 WL 4652548, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51). The court views all “evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, ” and summary judgment may be granted only if “no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party.” Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (second quoting Lunds, Inc. v. Chem. Bank, 870 F.2d 840, 844 (2d Cir. 1989)).

         III. Discussion

         Federal law prohibits “discriminat[ion] against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2). “[P]rohibited discrimination encompasses ‘a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.'” Picaro v. Pelham 1135 LLC, No. 14 Civ. 7398, 2014 WL 4678265, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B)). “To make out a claim of discrimination based on failure to reasonably accommodate in the housing context, ‘a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he suffers from a handicap as defined by the FHAA; (2) defendants knew or reasonably should have known of the plaintiff's handicap; (3) accommodation of the handicap may be necessary to afford plaintiff an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and (4) defendants refused to make such accommodation.” Id. (quoting Bentley v. Peace & Quiet Realty 2 LLC, 367 F.Supp.2d 341, 345 (E.D.N.Y. 2005)).[3]

         “[T]he crux of a reasonable-accommodation . . . claim typically will be the question of reasonableness.” Austin v. Town of Farmington, 826 F.3d 622, 629-30 (2d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (quoting Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Ass'n, 760 F.3d 531, 541 (6th Cir. 2014)). “A requested accommodation is reasonable where the cost is modest and it does not pose an undue hardship or substantial burden on the [landlord].” Id. at 630. “Reasonableness analysis is ‘highly fact-specific, requiring a case-by-case determination'” and “a complex balancing of factors.” Id. (quoting Hovsons, Inc. v. Twp. of Brick, 89 F.3d 1096, 1104 (3d Cir. 1996)).

         Reasonable accommodation claims under the New York State Human Rights Law are governed by the same legal standard as federal claims. See Scalera v. Electrograph Sys., Inc., 848 F.Supp.2d 352, 359 n.4 (E.D.N.Y. 2012).[4] However, “[t]he standard for a reasonable accommodation is higher (from the landlord's perspective) under New York City law”: an accommodation is reasonable under the city's Human Rights Law “if it ‘can be made' and ‘shall not cause undue hardship in the conduct of the landlord's business. The landlord shall have the burden of proving undue hardship.'” Picaro, 2014 WL 4678265, at *3 (quoting N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(18)). “[U]ndue hardship is measured in relation to the needs of the plaintiff and the specific circumstances of the defendant.” Id. Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff's ...


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