NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – New York’s highest court ruled on Thursday that the New York City Housing Authority can evict tenants who lie about their incomes.
The ruling from the New York State Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that the drastic penalty was likely to leave a woman and her three young children homeless.
The Court of Appeals concluded there’s “a vital public interest” in enforcing income rules for public housing, which is limited and has waiting lists of families.
The five judges unanimously said the authority’s decision to evict Jacqueline Perez doesn’t shock their sense of fairness, that public housing is not “tenancy of last resort” and courts should consider every eviction challenge on its own merits. Rivera, living in a Manhattan apartment, got a bookkeeping job but claimed in affidavits from 1999 to 2005 that she didn’t work, which kept her rent lower.
“Absent from the Appellate Division’s analysis — is any estimate of how probable it is that petitioner’s eviction would result in homelessness,” Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote, faulting the lower court’s 4-1 decision against eviction. He noted Perez has an income, and while she testified she couldn’t afford a larger apartment, she didn’t claim at her hearings that she would become homeless.
MORE: NYCHA Income Limits
If the courts assume public housing is the last resort, no tenants would ever be evicted no matter what they did, Pigott wrote. And if tenants believe they face little chance of eviction for misstating their earnings, the possibility of a criminal fraud conviction and court-ordered restitution may not be enough to deter the practice, he wrote.
Following the ruling, NYCHA released the following statement: “The New York City Housing Authority applauds this ruling by the NY State Court of Appeals. We are pleased the highest court in New York has recognized that public interest permits NYCHA to terminate the tenancy of persons who defraud NYCHA of rent money by hiding their income.”
In 2006, Perez was charged with grand larceny for failing to report her income, accused of defrauding the authority of $27,000 from lower rent she wasn’t entitled to. She pleaded guilty to petty larceny and was sentenced to a conditional discharge, agreeing to pay $20,000 in restitution.
The lower court, in judging eviction too harsh, said Perez “has made every effort to cure the violation by making restitution.”
Her attorney, Marc Sackin, said that she and her three children, two with learning disabilities, have stayed in the apartment during appeals, that she has repaid $18,000 so far and that she believed when she agreed to repay the money that she wouldn’t be evicted.
“I think, in these specific circumstances, evicting her is an arbitrary and capricious result,” he said.
According to the authority, more than 400,000 New Yorkers live in its 334 public housing developments in the city’s five boroughs and another 235,000 get subsidized rental assistance in private homes.
Do you agree with the court’s ruling? Sound off in the comments section below…
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)