SW Legal studies in Business

Landlord May Sue to Help Protect Constitutional Rights of Tenants
Description

Appeals court held that the owner of an apartment building that mostly rented to Hispanic immigrant workers, could sue a city on their behalf, to protect their right to equal protection and due process, by raising a challenge to the constitutionality of an ordinance that was claimed to have been designed to discriminate against the tenants.

Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words

Due Process; Equal Protection; Standing; Civil Rights; Anti-Immigrant Ordinance

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Young Apartments (YA) owns an apartment complex in Jupiter, Florida, it bought in 2000 for $1.15 million. There are 30 units in the complex; most of the tenants are Hispanic, as many immigrants work in the area. Due to concern about the growth of Hispanic residents who were alleged to be causing problems, the Town of Jupiter passed an Overcrowding Ordinance in 2004. YA contended that the ordinance, while allegedly neutral, was intended to eliminate affordable housing for immigrant workers. The Town did a pre-dawn inspection of the 30 apartments in 2005. Police and city officials entered the units without YA’s permission and without an inspection warrant. The Town inspected for violations of the ordinance. It issued four Code Enforcement Board cases against YA for overcrowding and for failure to repair all damage suffered from a hurricane a couple months before. YA was given 10 days to solve all defects. Prior to the raid, YA had contracted to sell the complex for $3.75 million. The dispute with the Town continued, the buyer backed out of the agreement to buy the property, and the Town condemned half the rental units. YA sued Jupiter for violating the civil rights of tenants. The Town disputed that YA had standing to sue on behalf of its tenants. The trial court dismissed the suit. YA appealed.

Decision

Reversed in part and remanded. YA has constitutional standing to bring suit against the Town for alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause. YA is suing to protect the civil rights of tenants due to the Town’s alleged violation of due process rights. The Ordinance is claimed to be discriminatory against Hispanics, a violation of their civil rights. It is unconstitutional for a state actor, motivated by discrimination, to interfere with an individual’s right to contract with members of a protected class. A party, such as YA, may bring a claim on behalf of third parties if: 1) the litigant has suffered an injury in fact, giving the litigant a concrete interest in the outcome of the dispute; 2) the litigant has a close relation to the third party; and 3) there must exist some hindrance to the third party’s ability to protect his or her interests. YA has a concrete economic interest in dealing with its tenants, and that interest is damaged by Town actions. YA has an interest in protecting the due process rights of the tenants subject to the pre-dawn raid and threatened with eviction due to the condemnation order. The tenants, as poor immigrants, have a hard time enforcing their rights through the legal system, so YA may assist in that regard. Equal Protection has been violated if it is shown that discrimination was a substantial factor in the government’s enactment of the law.

Citation

Young Apartments, Inc. v. Town of Jupiter, Fla., 529 F.3d 1027 (11th Cir., 2008)

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