GRANITE CITY — The reason for a Granite City man’s eviction from his rented property has come into question after he claims he was discriminated against for being HIV-positive, while the landlords say he simply didn’t pay his rent on time, among other issues.
Noe Farias Jr., 43, of Granite City says he was evicted from the home he was renting on the 2200 block of Bryan Avenue after his landlords found out he was HIV-positive. Farias said he has known he’s had the virus for 15 years but only recently told his landlord’s wife, Judy Horgon, after she asked about his situation.
“In April, she asked me how I got help (paying rent),” Farias, who receives rent assistance for his disability, said. “I told her, I’m on Social Security, but the agency helps because I’m HIV-positive. Since then, it has been nothing but trouble.”
Farias said a problem with a mailman delivering his rent check led to the check being late in April — the first time he’d been late with a payment in the nearly four years he lived at the house, he claimed — and on May 7 he was served with a five-day eviction notice.
Farias said Judy Horgon told him the notice was because he was late on his rent, but also due to the fact that Farias didn’t disclose to her and her husband, Rob, that he was HIV-positive before they had recently pumped his sewer. Farias claims neighbors have since told him that Judy Horgon said she wanted him out of the property because he hadn’t disclosed his condition.
Discrimination against individuals because of a disability is prohibited by both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. HIV and AIDS are considered disabilities under the acts.
Zachary Schmook, deputy director and managing attorney with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, said the timing and order of events raises questions about the cause of eviction.
“It’s not unusual for discrimination cases to be, at some degree at least, a matter of ‘he said, she said’ or ‘he said, he said,’” Schmook said. “A lot of it comes down to the timing of it. In this case, the allegation is that very shortly after they learned of the diagnosis, they made some comments to him and they terminated his lease. So that’s really how we would go about proving that their stated reasons are actually pretext for an inappropriate reason to terminate a lease.”
Glen Carbon attorney Jack Cranley said late rent, and three pets in the home in violation of the terms of the lease, were the only reasons for the eviction notice. Cranley said his clients “categorically deny that it has anything to do with anything other than the fact that he hadn’t paid his rent on time.
“They had a lease. He didn’t pay his rent on time. They exercised their rights. He also had more pets on the property than were permitted under the terms of the lease. That was the reason,” Cranley said.
“In fact, he voluntarily left. There was no eviction judgment entered. He had Land of Lincoln (legal assistance) and he agreed to leave, and we agreed not to pursue judgment against him. He paid $252 and vacated the premises, and delivered the keys.”
Cranley said he didn’t know if the Horgons had previously had issues with late rent payments from Farias or whether any prior notices or warnings had been issued to the tenant.
Farias has since found housing two blocks away from his previous residence. He met with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council on July 18 regarding his case.
Schmook said the council is still in the “very early stages” of an investigation into the matter, after which they will have a clearer idea of how to proceed. Discrimination complaints can be filed with state or federal agencies, such as the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and lawsuits can also be filed in state or federal court.
“At this point, it’s too early to determine what steps exactly we’re going to take on Noe’s case,” Schmook said.
Likewise, landlords also have options when a tenant is in breach of contract, including the filing of a small claims lawsuit or a Forcible Entry and Detainer complaint, which also can include monetary compensation to the landlord for unpaid rent, damages to the property, and other issues.
Penalties vary in cases where discrimination is found, Schmook said. Equitable relief, including fair-housing training for landlords, can be sought, as well as monetary relief for things like moving costs. Punitive damages and civil penalties can sometimes result as well.