Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Landlord - Tenant
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The plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 challenging a Jersey City ordinance curtailing the ability of property owners and leaseholders to operate short-term rentals. The plaintiffs alleged that having passed an earlier zoning ordinance legalizing short-term rentals, which enticed them to invest in properties and long-term leases, the city violated their rights under the Takings Clause, the Contract Clause, and the Due Process Clauses by passing the new ordinance, which, they allege, undermined their legitimate, investment-backed expectations and injured their short-term rental businesses. The plaintiffs also sought a preliminary injunction. The district court dismissed the complaint.The Third Circuit affirmed. Not every municipal act legalizing a business activity vests the business owner with a cognizable property right. The plaintiffs’ forward-looking right to pursue their short-term rental businesses is not cognizable under the Takings Clause, but the plaintiffs articulated three cognizable property rights: use and enjoyment of their purchased properties, long-term leases, and short-term rental contracts. Because the properties may still be put to multiple economically viable uses, there has been no total taking of those “properties.” Rejecting “partial takings” claims, the court noted that the plaintiffs may have relied on the previous ordinance in deciding to invest in short-term rentals but they failed to take into account the restrictions in place in that ordinance and the city’s strong interest in regulating residential housing. View "Nekrilov v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, Oakland’s Uniform Residential Tenant Relocation Ordinance, which requires landlords re-taking occupancy of their homes upon the expiration of a lease to pay tenants a relocation payment. Plaintiffs alleged that the relocation fee is an unconstitutional physical taking of their money for a private rather than public purpose, without just compensation. Alternatively, they claimed that the fee constitutes an unconstitutional exaction of their Oakland home and an unconstitutional seizure of their money under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Although in certain circumstances money can be the subject of a physical (per se) taking, the relocation fee required by the Ordinance was a regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship, not an unconstitutional taking of a specific and identifiable property interest. Because there was no taking, the court did not address whether the relocation fee was required for a public purpose or what just compensation would be. The court rejected an assertion that Oakland placed an unconstitutional condition (an exaction), on their preferred use of their Oakland home. The plaintiffs did not establish a cognizable theory of state action; Oakland did not participate in the monetary exchange between plaintiffs and their tenants. View "Ballinger v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, New York City amended its Residential and Non-Residential Harassment Laws, to prohibit “threatening” tenants based on their “status as a person or business impacted by COVID-19, or . . . receipt of a rent concession or forbearance for any rent owed during the COVID-19 period,” and added the “Guaranty Law,” which renders permanently unenforceable personal liability guarantees of commercial lease obligations for businesses that were required to cease or limit operations pursuant to a government order. For rent arrears arising during March 7, 2020-June 30, 2021, the Guaranty Law extinguishes a landlord’s ability to enforce a personal guaranty.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the plaintiffs alleged that the Harassment Amendments violated the Free Speech and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. and New York Constitutions by impermissibly restricting commercial speech in the ordinary collection of rents and by failing to provide fair notice of what constitutes threatening conduct. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Guaranty Law violated the Contracts Clause, which prohibits “State . . . Law[s] impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” The district court dismissed the suit.The Second Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the plaintiffs failed to allege plausible free speech and due process claims. The court reinstated the challenge to the Guaranty Law. The Guaranty Law significantly impairs personal guaranty agreements; there are at least five serious concerns about that law being a reasonable and appropriate means to pursue the professed public purpose. View "Melendez v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District supplies water to about 300 households, including the public housing tenants of a Pinal County complex. Property owners like Pinal County are responsible for paying any past tenant’s delinquent water accounts. Pinal County acknowledged that responsibility but consistently refused to pay, contending it was immune to that policy based on its status as a public municipality. In response, the District imposed a new policy that increased to $180 the refundable security deposit required of new public housing customers before the District would provide water services. New non-public housing customers were subject to a $55 deposit.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge to the policy under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3604 and 3617, which bars discriminatory housing policies and practices, including those that cause a disparate impact according to certain protected characteristics or traits—race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. Although the District’s public housing customers are disproportionately African American, Native American, and single mothers, the District established by undisputed evidence that the policy served in a significant way its legitimate business interests; the plaintiffs failed to establish a triable issue of fact that there existed an equally effective, but less discriminatory, alternative. There was insufficient evidence that discriminatory animus was a motivating factor behind the District’s decision to implement its policy. View "Southwest Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that sexual harassment—both hostile housing environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment—is actionable under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, provided the plaintiff demonstrates that she would not have been harassed but for her sex.In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the property manager and the property's owner, alleging sexual harassment claims under the Act and state law. The district court found no guidance from the court on this question and therefore dismissed the complaint based on the ground that plaintiff's claims were not actionable under the Act. The court vacated the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's complaint and remanded for reconsideration. View "Fox v. Gaines" on Justia Law

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020) (CARES Act), among other things, imposed a 120-day moratorium on evictions for rental properties receiving federal assistance. The CDC then issued a temporary eviction moratorium on September 4, 2020, that suspended the execution of eviction orders for nonpayment of rent. Before the CDC's order was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020, Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended the CDC's order through January 31, 2021. The CDC's order was then extended again through March 31, 2021, and again through June 30, 2021, and again through July 31, 2021.Plaintiffs, several landlords seeking to evict their tenants for nonpayment of rent and a trade association for owners and managers of rental housing, filed suit alleging that the CDC's orders exceeds its statutory and regulatory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and violates their constitutional right to access the courts.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs' failure to show an irreparable injury. The court declined to find that the CDC's order is unconstitutional, and failed to see how the temporary inability to reclaim rental properties constitutes an irreparable harm. Furthermore, the court explained that, without any information about a tenant’s financial or employment picture, the court has no way to evaluate whether she will ever be able to repay her landlord; to decide otherwise based solely on the CDC declaration would be to conclude that no one who signed the declaration is likely to repay their debts after the moratorium expires. Given the lack of evidence and the availability of substantial collection tools, the court could not conclude that the landlords have met their burden of showing that an irreparable injury is likely. View "Brown v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) does not require landlords to accommodate the disability of an individual who neither entered into a lease nor paid rent in exchange for the right to occupy the premises.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, in an action brought by plaintiff against the City for wrongful eviction based on several theories of state law implied tenancy. The panel held that the FHAA applies to rentals only when the landlord or his designee has received consideration in exchange for granting the right to occupy the premises. As to occupants requesting accommodation, the panel held that the FHAA's disability discrimination provisions apply only to cases involving a "sale" or "rental" for which the landlord accepted consideration in exchange for granting the right to occupy the premises. Applying a federal standard rather than California landlord-tenant law, the panel concluded that because plaintiff never provided consideration in exchange for the right to occupy Spot 57, the FHAA was inapplicable to his claim for relief. Furthermore, the City was not obligated to provide, offer, or discuss an accommodation. View "Salisbury v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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In this Fair Housing Act of 1968 case, plaintiff's claims stemmed from his neighbor's verbal attacks and attempted intimidation of plaintiff based on his race. The principal question presented to the en banc court is whether a plaintiff states a claim under the Act and parallel state statutes for intentional discrimination by alleging that his landlord failed to respond to reported race-based harassment by a fellow tenant.The en banc court concluded that landlords cannot be presumed to have the degree of control over tenants that would be necessary to impose liability under the FHA for tenant-on-tenant misconduct. In this case, plaintiff failed to state a claim that the KPM Defendants intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of race in violation of the FHA, Sections 1981 and 1982, or the New York State Human Rights Law. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to state a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress against the KPM Defendants under New York law. View "Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, alleging that the Rental Property Registration and Inspection Ordinance violated their constitutional rights, breached their consent decree with the City, and violated the Fair Housing Act. The Ordinance implemented uniform residential rental property registration, and a regular inspection program that is phased in accordance with the history of code violations on each property, requiring all rental properties in the City to register with the Permits and Inspections Division before leasing to tenants. The district court denied a preliminary injunction and dismissed plaintiffs' claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Ordinance does not violate Metro Omaha's constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Applying the Nebraska Supreme Court's rules of construction, the court concluded that the plain text of the Ordinance does not authorize warrantless inspections of properties if consent is withheld. Furthermore, pre-compliance review before inspections does not apply here where inspections are permitted only if there is consent, a warrant, or court order. Finally, by withholding consent, property owners are not subject to criminal liability or prohibited from renting their property.The court also concluded that the Ordinance is not unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The court explained that the Ordinance provides adequate notice of the proscribed conduct and does not lend itself to arbitrary enforcement. The court further concluded that Metro Omaha fails to plausibly plead a breach of the consent decree, and that the Ordinance does not violate the Fair Housing Act. View "Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Ass'n v. City of Omaha, Nebraska" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the underlying judgment of the Housing Court in this summary process eviction action awarding possession to Landlord, holding that Tenant's appeals regarding his requests for disabilities accommodations in the Appeals Court and in the single justice session were moot.After a bench trial the Housing Court judge awarded possession to Landlord but granted Tenant a reasonable accommodation in the form of a limited stay of execution. On appeal, Tenant requested disabilities accommodations from the Appeals Court, some of which were granted. Tenant also filed a petition in the county court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, which a single justice denied. The appeals were consolidated. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Tenant's claims arising from the denial of requested disabilities accommodations in the Appeals Court and in the single justice session of this Court were moot. View "Saipe v. Sullivan & Co., Inc." on Justia Law