A 70-year-old Santa Monica tenant “with significant physical disabilities” has filed suit alleging that Santa Monica Collection and Christina Development Corporation discriminated against her on the basis of her disability when they declined to accept partial payment of her rent under the Section 8 housing assistance program. The two companies are alleged to be the owner and manager, respectively, of the “residential rental building located at 1251 14th Street” where plaintiff Nadia Fino has been a tenant “for approximately 23 years,” all as set forth in the complaint filed in Los Angeles federal district court on October 13.
The Section 8 program, authorized by sections 8(b)(1) and 8(o) of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, as amended, provides vouchers for “very low-income households by allowing families [and individuals] to choose privately owned rental housing,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The beneficiary household generally pays 30 percent of its income in rent, and the government pays the balance of “fair market rent” as determined by a public housing authority. Participation in the program by landlords is voluntary.
The Fino lawsuit, filed on plaintiff’s behalf by the Housing Rights Center, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and a private lawyer, attempts to extend the application of Section 8 benefits to non-volunteering landlords, at least under the particular facts in this case.
Shaun Limbers, vice president of Malibu-based Christina Development, declined comment on the case except to say that the company “believes the suit is without merit and we will prevail.” He said that Christina has retained counsel and that Santa Monica Collection is a separate entity, but he declined to identify the lawyer or describe any relationship between the companies.
According to the complaint, Fino rented an apartment in the building and paid rent from her income since 1986. Then in 2004 she became disabled and stopped working but continued to pay rent from her disability income and her savings. “In June 2008, after exhausting her life-savings, Ms. Fino applied with the Santa Monica Housing Authority to participate in the Section 8 tenant-based program” and “was issued a voucher on February 26, 2009.” Defendants refused to accept the voucher, stating that “Santa Monica Collection has a policy of not participating in the Section 8 Program,” all as alleged in the complaint.
The complaint claims that the total fair market rent authorized to be paid under the Section 8 program exceeds the amount of Fino’s rent under Santa Monica rent control, and proceeds to argue that by “refusing to grant Ms. Fino’s reasonable accommodation request to accept her Section 8 voucher in payment of her rent, Defendants have discriminated against her on the basis of disability” in violation of various federal and state laws.