Baez v. New York City Housing Authority
More than 400,000 New Yorkers live in public housing, and many of those residents, including children, have chronic asthma and other health conditions that are aggravated by mold and moisture in their homes. Making matters worse, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the agency that owns and manages public housing in the city, has a history of failing to make timely and effective repairs when residents report problems.
So, in December 2013, NRDC, alongside our clients Manhattan Together, South Bronx Churches and lawyers from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), filed a class-action lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—which includes protections for those who have an impairment of any major life function, like breathing—on behalf of NYCHA residents who suffer from the effects of unabated mold and excessive moisture in their apartments.
In April 2014, a federal district court judge approved a settlement of the lawsuit, requiring NYCHA to remediate mold and moisture promptly and at the source, and to improve its handling of requests for accommodation under the ADA. But by the following year, it was obvious that NYCHA was not complying with the court’s order. Along with pro bono co-counsel, NRDC and our partners stepped in again, this time filing a motion to enforce the settlement order. When, in December 2015, the court found that NYCHA had been out of compliance with the ordered settlement agreement from day one, the judge appointed a special master to work with the parties and other partners like LSA Family Health Service to identify the steps that the agency needed to take.
In April 2018, seeing little improvement in NYCHA’s performance, NRDC, NCLEJ, Quinn Emanuel, and other pro bono attorneys asked the court to approve an amended settlement agreement, featuring improvements to protocols and reporting, as well as the appointment of data and mold experts, and an ombudsperson who is empowered to address individual tenants’ concerns if NYCHA fails to make adequate and timely repairs.
In September 2018, more than 50 NYCHA tenants appeared at a public hearing on the proposed settlement. They, and hundreds of others who submitted written comments, described the severe health hazards in their apartments. The court approved the revised settlement that November, and appointed independent data and mold analysts and an ombudsperson in 2019. The Ombudsperson Call Center is available to residents of all NYCHA developments who are dealing with unresolved mold and moisture problems.
This was not the end of litigation, however. In 2015, NYCHA started converting housing to privately operated developments through the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program. Under the PACT program, NYCHA continues to own the properties but leases buildings to private developers who manage renovations and day-to-day operations. NYCHA argued that the consent decree’s protections do not extend to the growing number of New Yorkers in PACT housing. NRDC, alongside our partners, again asked the court to enforce the consent decree to protect these residents as well from unabated mold and excessive moisture. In December 2021, NRDC, NCLEJ, and pro bono counsel at Proskauer Rose reached an agreement with NYCHA on behalf of our clients to provide important protections for PACT residents, including access to the independent Ombudsperson Call Center; a requirement to fix mold, leaks, and other excessive moisture conditions within 30 days of receiving a complaint; and oversight by the independent mold analyst, independent data analyst, and special master to ensure that NYCHA and its PACT partners provide safe and healthy living conditions by addressing mold and excessive moisture.
For more information, read the Journal article by Sara E. Imperiale and Erin M. Meyer, “Enforcing the Right to Breathe: Continuing the Fight for Environmental Justice in Public Housing,” featured in Environmental Law in New York 30, no. 6 (June 2019).
Case DocumentsComplaint (PDF) Proposed Settlement Agreement of Class Action Lawsuit Concerning Mold and Moisture in NYCHA Apartments (PDF) Declaration of Maribel Baez in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification (PDF) Declaration of Felipa Cruz in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification (PDF) Declaration of R.D. in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification (PDF) Stipulation and Order of Settlement (PDF) Notice of Proposed Settlement, Baez v. NYCHA - English (PDF) Plaintiffs’ Memorandum in Support of Their Motion to Enforce or Modify the Stipulation and Order (PDF) Declaration of Michael Stanley in Support of Motion to Enforce Stipulation and Order (PDF) NYCHA’s Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Enforce Stipulation and Order (PDF) Plaintiffs’ Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Enforce Stipulation and Order (PDF) Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Enforce Stipulation and Order (PDF) Plaintiffs’ Second Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Enforce Stipulation and Order (PDF) Supplemental Declaration of Michael Stanley in Support of Motion to Enforce (PDF) Memorandum and Order Granting Motion to Enforce and Request for Appointment of Special Master (PDF) Cover Letter from Special Master (PDF) Proposed Order Extending Existing Consent Decree (PDF) Proposed Amended Stipulation and Order of Settlement (PDF) Proposed Modified Amended Stipulation and Order of Settlement (PDF) Plaintiffs’ Memorandum in Support of Motion for an Order Approving Modified Amended Stipulation (PDF) Opinion and Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Approve Modified Amended Stipulation (PDF) Order Appointing César de Castro as Ombudsperson (PDF) Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion to Enforce the Revised Consent Decree (PDF) Opinion and Order (PDF) Agreement Regarding Settlement of Section 8 Claims (PDF)