APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, U.S. District Judge.
Guillermo F. DeGuzmá n, with whom DeGuzmá n Law Offices, was on brief, for appellant.
Luis A. Guzmá n Dupont, for appellees.
Before Torruella, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.
BARRON, Circuit Judge.
The appellant contends the Fair Housing Act's requirement that landlords must make reasonable accommodations for their disabled tenants entitles her to stay in her apartment of many years, even though she had been told she was no longer eligible for the federal subsidy on which she had been relying to make the rent. She also contends her landlord impermissibly discriminated against her because of her disability in other ways, and also that it retaliated against her for pursuing her Fair Housing Act rights. The District Court granted summary judgment for that landlord, a private housing cooperative in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a number of the cooperative's board members, whom the appellant had also named as defendants. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand in part.
Since 1983, Priscilla Batista has leased the same three-bedroom apartment at the Cooperativa de Vivienda Jardines de San Ignacio, a San Juan, Puerto Rico housing cooperative. Her two children used to live in the three-bedroom apartment with her, but they moved out in 1997 and 2003, respectively.
For most of the time Batista has lived at the Cooperativa, she received benefits under the federal housing assistance program known as Section 8, and these benefits enabled her to cover the rent for her apartment. Under that program, government subsidies are available for " low-income families" so they may " obtain a decent place to live." 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a). Those subsidies assist Section 8 recipients with the rent they owe to private landlords. See id. § 1437f(o). Although
the Section 8 program is a federal one, it is administered by so-called " public housing agencies" at the state and local level. See id. § 1437f(b)(1). In Puerto Rico, the entity responsible for administering the Section 8 program is the Puerto Rico Housing Finance Authority.
One of the obligations of the Housing Finance Authority is to conduct a management review of buildings that house recipients of Section 8 assistance. During such a review of the Cooperativa in October of 2007, the Puerto Rico Housing Finance Authority observed that four units, including Batista's three-bedroom Unit 1714A, were " over-housed" for Section 8 purposes. By " over-housed," the agency meant the tenants in those four units were living in units larger than those they qualified for under Section 8. The Cooperativa accordingly sent Batista -- who was by then living alone in the three-bedroom unit -- a letter later that month informing her that, under Section 8, she was required either to transfer to an appropriately sized unit (in which case she could continue to receive Section 8 assistance) or to remain in her three-bedroom Unit 1714A but pay the fair market rent without such assistance.
The Cooperativa sent Batista additional letters in November of 2008 and February of 2009 informing her that a two-bedroom apartment was available and advising her that, if she chose to stay in Unit 1714A, she would have to pay market-rate rent without the Section 8 assistance as of April 1, 2009. Batista did not respond to any of the letters.
Three weeks before the April 1 deadline, however, Batista submitted a request to the Cooperativa for reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act on account of her disability. Batista's accommodation request stated that, in addition to a bedroom, her disability requires that she have one room for physical therapy and another room for reading and crafts -- and, consequently, that moving to a smaller unit would compromise her health. The request further stated that in light of her ...