St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force addresses housing discrimination | St. Lawrence County

CANTON — A June 2021 survey conducted by Jefferson Community College found that between 13% and 16% of respondents said they had experienced some form of discrimination in their search for housing over the prior 12 months.

“If it’s 13% to 16%, that seems to be relatively consistent as reported in prior years. Some of the protected classes under fair housing law include sex, religion, national origin or race, and disability,” Matilda M. Larson, a planner with the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, said during the latest St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force meeting.

She said protected classes include female tenants who are experiencing sexual harassment from the landlord because of their sex; persons with disabilities and reasonable accommodations or modifications; and individual tenants who have emotional support animals.

“Those tend to be the three biggest categories that have been identified,” Ms. Larson said.

P.J. Herne, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, said discrimination could also target people receiving Department of Social Services assistance or those participating in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, ERAP.

“If you’re refusing to accept ERAP, that is a form of income discrimination,” Mr. Herne said.

John F. Tenbusch, a St. Lawrence County planner, recounted instances of alleged discrimination that he had been involved with.

“I’d like to use as an illustration a recent allegation that I received that a landlord was discriminating against a tenant based on race. This was a tenant who had been working with MILC (Maximizing independent Living Choices) and contacted us and gave us that allegation. Of course, if it could be proved, it is clearly discrimination,” he said.

Mr. Tenbusch said he referred the person to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.

“Then, the client never got back to us and the phone number I had for the client, I wasn’t able to make contact. So, I find out later that the client presumably got other housing elsewhere. I didn’t contact the landlord directly, but I’m told that the landlord said the client was rejected because of five dogs. But, it never proceeded to the point of being an actual case,” he said. “So, what we get is a lot of that kind of mixed-up situation that may or may not be discrimination until you look at it and try to sort out what’s what. In my own view, it very well might have been a case of discrimination, but the tenant went on, as far as I know, and got another housing unit and has not contacted me again and I have no way to contact the client.”

Mr. Tenbusch said another case last fall involved a Potsdam tenant who lived in a large complex.

“They were renovating the complex. The tenant was disabled and lived on the second floor. They took out the lift, so the tenant was effectively marooned on the second floor of the complex,” he said.

Potsdam Director of Planning and Development Frederick J. Hanss said that case involved multiple tenants on the second floor.

That client was referred to Central New York Fair Housing in Syracuse.

“I’m not quite sure where that is in the process, but that was pretty clear to be discrimination based on disability,” Mr. Tenbusch said.

He said there are also other cases his office has been involved with.

“Those are illustrative of the types of complaints that we get,” he said.

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