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Hogan Lovells Pro Bono Team Achieves Pro Bono Victory in NYC Public Housing Case

21 December 2015

NEW YORK, 21 December 2015 – A team of Hogan Lovells lawyers achieved a significant pro bono victory in federal district court last week for thousands of New York public housing tenants who suffer from asthma. The team represents the tenants in Baez v. NYCHA, a class action filed against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for failure to remediate the mold and excessive moisture in plaintiffs’ homes that exacerbate their respiratory illnesses.

In his decision, Southern District Court Judge William Pauley found that NYCHA had failed to take adequate steps to remediate mold in violation of a 2014 Consent Decree and granted the firm’s motion to appoint a special master to oversee NYCHA’s future efforts. This case has attracted considerable public attention given NYCHA’s role as New York City’s largest landlord and its concurrent failures in other areas, such as tenant safety, disaster preparedness, and budgetary management.

The tenant-plaintiffs had originally filed their class action complaint against NYCHA in December 2013, seeking injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act for NYCHA’s failure to effectively abate the mold and excessive moisture in their apartments. In April 2014, Judge Pauley entered a Consent Decree requiring NYCHA to repair “simple” mold and excessive moisture problems within seven days and “complex” mold and excessive moisture problems within fifteen days, on average. 

A year after the Consent Decree was entered, however, NYCHA’s workers were still merely painting over blackened mold or washing it with bleach without remedying the underlying cause of the mold.

Hogan Lovells joined the National Center for Law & Economic Justice and Natural Resources Defense Council as pro bono co-counsel in November 2014 and immediately began documenting NYCHA’s noncompliance through interviews of tenants and community organizers. In April 2015, the Hogan Lovells team filed a motion to enforce the Consent Decree asking the court to reiterate NYCHA’s obligation to make timely and effective repairs to mold and excessive moisture problems and to appoint a special master to oversee NYCHA’s future compliance. Hogan Lovells also asked for monetary penalties in the event that NYCHA failed to comply in the future.

On 15 December 2015, Judge Pauley granted almost all of the relief that plaintiffs sought in their motion to enforce. In a strongly worded decision, Judge Pauley held that “NYCHA has been out of compliance with the Consent Decree from the day it was entered by this Court. NYCHA’s justifications for its failure to comply are inadequate, and the attitude of NYCHA officials appears to be one of indifference.” 

Judge Pauley also granted the plaintiffs’ request to appoint a special master to monitor and enforce NYCHA’s future compliance with its court-ordered responsibilities, which is significant because it will enable the plaintiffs to have a direct line into NYCHA’s operations and documents, including how NYCHA allocates its budget for making repairs. The judge concluded that a special master is warranted because NYCHA’s “failure to remediate mold and excessive moisture jeopardizes the health and public welfare of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”

The Hogan Lovells pro bono team includes partner Steven Edwards; associates Pooja Boisture, Erin Meyer, Laura Sayler, Dianne Milner, and Casey Downing; paralegal Kelly Quigley; and assistants Cynthia Lynch and Emily Bogovic.

 
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