Rights of Public Housing Residents with Mental Disabilities

Blatch v. Franco, 97 Civ. 3918 (LTS) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action challenges the Housing Authority's practice of seeking to evict residents with mental disabilities without prior appointment of a guardian ad litem or other efforts at accommodating their mental disabilities, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Amendments Act, and due process of law. The plaintiffs include 11 tenants who were subject to administrative termination-of-tenancy proceedings and/or Housing Court eviction proceedings. The action seeks to ensure that residents with mental disabilities have the capacity to represent themselves at all stages of the termination-of-tenancy and eviction process.

Current Status: A plaintiff class was certified on December 1, 1999. On March 30, 2005, the district court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the most important aspects of plaintiffs' claims. Blatch v. Franco, 360 F. Supp. 2d 595 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). The court found “that NYCHA's practices and procedures for conducting administrative tenancy termination hearings fail to protect mentally disabled tenants against deprivations of their tenancy rights without due process of law and thus violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.” The court also declared that “NYCHA's practice of pursuing non-payment proceedings in Housing Court without informing the tribunal of information in its possession that may suggest that the tenant is incapable of meaningfully participating in the proceedings” violates due process.

On October 10, 2008, the district court approved a settlement of the action. Under the settlement, the Housing Authority has agreed to a permanent injunction ensuring that it will not proceed with a termination of tenancy proceeding or a remaining family member grievance hearing with a resident who is incompetent unless the person is represented by an adequate guardian. In every housing court case, the Authority will inform the housing court of information in its possession indicating that the tenant may be incompetent. The Housing Authority has also agreed to procedures that define competence and specify criteria for determining whether a resident should be evaluated for incompetence. If the resident meets the criteria, the Housing Authority’s Social Service Department will evaluate the resident and determine whether or not the person should have a guardian appointed. Settlements entered into by a guardian must be reviewed for reasonableness by the hearing officers. After a hearing, default, or settlement, a resident may move to set aside the determination because he or she was incompetent and did not have a guardian. The Housing Authority must submit a form to Housing Court to inform the court if the tenant meets the criteria that require an evaluation in the administrative forum.

The Housing Authority has failed to comply with part of the settlement agreement that requires the Authority to provide notice to the Housing Court of issues affecting a tenant’s competency. In light of this development, we have requested an extension of the settlement term. The Housing Authority has rejected this request. Further motion practice on this issue is anticipated.

No. Persons Affected: Approximately 15,200 Housing Authority tenants and/or family members suffer from a mental disability.

Reported Decisions: Blatch v. Franco, 1998 WL 265132, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7717 (S.D.N.Y. May 26, 1998); Blatch v. Franco, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23158 (S.D.N.Y. March 28, 2001) (report and recommendation); Blatch v. Franco, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3531 (S.D.N.Y. March 5, 2002) (adopting report and recommendation); Blatch v. Franco, 360 F. Supp. 2d 595 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); Blatch v. Hernandez, 2008 WL 4826178 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 3, 2008) (approving fairness and adequacy of settlement).