Landlord Ordered to Pay $17,000 for Threatening to Call ICE on Then-Undocumented Tenant
September 24th 2019
By Marissa Higgins
On Sept. 12, a New York City judge ordered that landlord Dianna Lysius pay $17,000 in fines and damages for threatening a tenant. The judge ruled that the landlord had harassed tenant Holly Ondaan by repeatedly threatening to call ICE on her over unpaid rent. Ondaan was an undocumented immigrant at the time the case was filed. She says that she has since gotten her green card.
Ondaan had legal representation through the city’s Commission on Human Rights. The commission filed a complaint on Ondaan’s behalf that included alleged discrimination against her because of her documentation status.
According to Judge John B. Spooner’s report, the texts were: "HAVE MY MONEY OR IM CALLING ICES [sic] THAT DAY PERIOD”; "It was fun and games when you calling DOB now it's fun and games calling immigration 12 times day. They can deport you”; and "I REPORTED YOU TO IMMIGRATION BOO THEY KNOW IM THE LANDLORD TO PROVIDE THEM KEYS COME DIRECTLY TO YOU."
Ondaan testified that she became an “emotional wreck” over the threats. Lysius denies sending the texts and says she plans to appeal. “Everything in that report is false,” she said.
According to the judge’s report, Ondaan lived in the apartment from September 2011 to September 2018. In the fall of 2017, Ondaan made her first complaints to police that Lysius was sending threatening texts and making visits. By October of the same year, Ondaan had stopped paying rent, citing financial difficulties, and says that Lysius amped up the texts in response. Lysius began a nonpayment action against Ondaan over the late rent. Eventually, Lysius lost the mortgage to the house and cited Ondaan’s nonpayment as the reason.
Eventually, the city’s Commission on Human Rights sent the landlord a cease-and-desist letter to stop threatening tenants with ICE, which is considered discrimination against tenants on the basis of their citizenship or immigration status. This letter came on Jan. 17, 2018.
In the end, the judge noted that Lysius's "dire financial circumstances" probably had a significant role in the alleged texts, but found the ICE-related threats were still discriminatory. Judge Spooner recommended that Lysius pay $12,000 in damages for emotional distress to the tenant and an additional $5,000 in civil penalties, and complete 50 hours of community service.
Attorneys involved in the case believe this is the first instance in which a person was fined for making ICE-related threats and could be used in establishing precedent.
"It sets important case precedent for the interpretation of our Human Rights Law to include the weaponization of ICE to intimidate or harass someone in housing as a violation," deputy commissioner for the city’s Commission on Human Rights Sapna V. Raj said. "We will not allow our city's most vulnerable to be further marginalized out of fear for their safety in their own homes. Immigration status, citizenship, and national origin (perceived or actual) are protected categories under our law, and we will continue to fight to ensure those protections are enforced to the fullest extent."
The alleged threats are terrifying. Landlords understandably want the money they’re owed, but no one deserves to have their citizenship status used against them.
Posted with permission