Francis v. Kings Park Manor Inc.
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
In Francis v. Kings, the court addressed the question of whether a landlord may be liable under the FHA (Fair Housing Act) for failing to take prompt action to address a racially hostile housing environment created by one tenant targeting another, where the landlord knew of the discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., 917 F.3d 109, (2019). On March 4, 2019, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, reversed the District Court's dismissal and found that a landlord can be held liable under the Federal Fair Housing Act for failing to protect a tenant from harassment and discrimination by another tenant.
Donahue Francis (Plaintiff) is a Black man who received a Section 8 voucher that helped him reside at King’s Park Manor (KPM), a predominantly White and wealthy suburban area. After Francis moved into KPM, he was targeted by his next door neighbor, Raymond Endres, a white man. Endres called Francis derogatory names and even threatened to kill him over the course of seven months. Fearing for his safety, Francis contacted the police multiple times and notified KPM four times about the harassment. Endres was eventually arrested, and later pled guilty to harassment. Though the police took action, KPM did nothing to help Francis or reprimand Endres.
In Francis, the 2nd Circuit pointed out that the "FHA nowhere explicitly endorses landlord liability for tenant-on-tenant harassment." However, the court noted that it has "never required every last detail of a legislative scheme to be spelled out in a statute itself—especially a civil rights statute".
The 2nd Circuit requested an amicus brief from HUD. In HUD's amicus brief, the agency stated that a landlord may be liable under the FHA for “failing to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party” irrespective of whether the landlord herself harbored any racial animus. See 24 C.F.R. § 100.7(a)(1).
The 2nd Circuit held that there are three elements that a plaintiff must prove to establish a housing provider's liability for third-party harassment: "(1) [t]he third-party created a hostile environment for the plaintiff ...; (2) the housing provider knew or should have known about the conduct creating the hostile environment;” and (3) notwithstanding its obligation under the FHA to do so, “the housing provider failed to take prompt action to correct and end the harassment while having the power to do so.” The Defendants in Francis argued that this interpretation would impose far reaching liability on landlords. However, the court noted that in order for a landlord or property manager to be found liable under the FHA, there would have to be egregious and “severe” behavior of which the landlord and/or property manager were aware and simply did nothing about.
The Defendants also argued that landlords do not have control or power to stop a tenant's discriminatory actions. However, the court also noted that, "housing providers ordinarily have a range of mechanisms at their disposal to correct discriminatory tenant-on-tenant harassment, such as “issuing and enforcing notices to quit, issuing threats of eviction and, if necessary, enforcing evictions,” all of which are “powerful tools” that may be “available to a housing provider to control or remedy a tenant's illegal [discriminatory] conduct.”
After the 2nd Circuit's March 4, 2019, decision, the Second Circuit granted KPM’s petition for en banc hearing. Prior to oral argument, HUD published a notice of proposed rulemaking to withdraw the HUD Rule and further asked the court not to rely on the estranged regulation in deciding the appeal.
On March 25, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held en banc that landlords, who do not have discriminatory intent, are not liable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for ignoring tenant-on-tenant racial harassment in their buildings. The court stated 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." Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., 992 F.3d 67, 70. The majority opinion did not mention the HUD rule. Instead, since Francis's claim did not rest on direct evidence of landlord discrimination, the court analyzed the claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting frame work. The court stated that, "For a plaintiff's claim to survive a motion to dismiss in a McDonnell Douglas case, he must plausibly allege that he (1) is a member of a protected class, (2) suffered an adverse action, and (3) has at least minimal support for the proposition that the housing provider was motivated by discriminatory intent". The court held that the facts in Francis did not overcome the McDonnell Douglas burden and that there was minimal support for the proposition" that the KPM Defendants were motivated by discriminatory intent.
Thus, the Second Circuit held that KPM was not liable for racial discrimination under the FHA for Endres’s conduct against Francis.
King's Park Manor Pictured Above