Was New York Woman Evicted for Cancer?
A Manhattan resident has filed a federal lawsuit against her former landlord, claiming she was evicted from her apartment because she was a cancer survivor.
Heatheran Kristopher, 43, says she is sleeping on friends’ couches after being forced out of the Upper East Side building she had lived in for three years. Shortly after she moved in in 2008 she started treatment for ovarian and colon cancer.
Her rental troubles began in 2011 when Icon Management sold her building to Stone Street Properties LLC. Kristopher claims that the founder of Stone Street showed up at her door, yelled, “How do I know you’re not going to get cancer again?” and berated her for owing $5,000 in rent. She says she had previously fallen behind by as much as $10,000, but by then was paid up in full.
In the lawsuit, Kristopher said she had just signed a new two-year lease with Icon, but Stone Street refused to honor it and tried to make her sign a six-month agreement instead. “This way you’re not locked in if you do get sick again,” she alleged that one agent said. “I strongly suggest you sign this or you will be put on the black list.”
In November 2011 the landlord started eviction proceedings, and Kristopher filed a complaint for disability discrimination with Housing and Urban Development as well as the New York State Division of Human Rights.
After over a year of legal wrangling, she finally was forced to move out of the apartment last month, withdrew the human rights complaint and filed the federal lawsuit.
The landlord denied making any cancer comments and called Kristopher “a sour-grapes tenant who was evicted because she had no lease.”
Cause for Complaint
New York City has particularly strong tenant protection laws. The list of classes protected against housing discrimination is extensive: race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, marital status, familial status, lawful occupation, sexual orientation, partnership status and immigration status, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS and recovering alcoholics.
If someone were denied housing because of cancer, it would fall under the disability category. First, however, the plaintiff would have to prove that is actually why she was evicted.
“A landlord isn’t required to subsidize a tenant who doesn’t pay his or her own rent,” says Alan J. Goldberg, an attorney at New York firm Goldberg, Scudieri & Lindenberg. “The landlord is entitled to pursue the rent claim even if the person has a disability.”
A plaintiff would have to come up with other evidence that the landlord specifically discriminated against him or her because of cancer or another disability. “If the landlord complained that she had medical equipment in her apartment, if she had a support dog, an attendant living with her, too many nurses coming in, hospital bed, anything based on the illness, it would constitute discrimination,” Goldberg explains.
Tenants who think they are being discriminated against have a number of options to seek recourse. “Document everything the landlord is doing on an ongoing basis,” says Goldberg. “Then obtain an attorney.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity will take complaints, as well as the New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
“If there’s a finding of probable cause, the city and state will pursue penalties,” Goldberg says. Complainants also have the option of pursuing a private civil suit.