ITHACA, N.Y.—One of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords has found himself in the crosshairs of the New York State Attorney General, as Letitia James announced Monday her office is suing Jason Fane and Ithaca Renting Company.

In James’ announcement of the suit, she accuses Fane of refusing to accept Section 8 housing assistance vouchers as rent payments at his properties, which violates the source of income protection laws that were put in place in 2019. Fane owns a number of visible properties in downtown Ithaca and Collegetown, often marked by a black sign with yellow and green writing when there are vacancies inside.

Within the suit, James states she wants to “require Mr. Fane to stop denying housing to New Yorkers with Section 8 vouchers, pay civil penalties, and set aside five percent of his residential housing units exclusively for Section 8 vouchers.” The civil penalties amount to $300,000, and the set-aside units cannot be clustered, according to James’ demands. The full lawsuit can be read at the bottom of this page.

According to the AG’s office, Fane owns over 500 units in Ithaca, across 18 properties (The Ithaca Voice‘s development guru Brian Crandall largely concurred with that number, putting it at about 860 beds because of his student housing properties).

The suit also details the investigation the Office of the Attorney General conducted after receiving complaints from an Ithaca housing advocate that her attempts to find housing through Ithaca Renting for a homeless man she was helping were being rebuked explicitly because the man received Section 8 housing vouchers. The man, according to the suit, remained homeless for a year after receiving Section 8 vouchers.

That was in December 2020, and after receiving the complaint (and purportedly others from previous years), officials began to investigate Ithaca Renting. According to the lawsuit, in separate depositions each employee of the company confirmed that they do not accept Section 8 vouchers as rental payments, apparently stating that the company “choose[s] not to participate in the Section 8 voucher program.” Eventually, James said in her announcement, Fane acknowledged establishing the policy himself when other employees would not disclose who created it.

“It is clear throughout the depositions of Respondent Fane and [Chief Operating Officer] Nathan Lyman that respondents have no intention of complying with the law and will continue to engage in discriminatory practice,” the lawsuit states.

Earlier in 2020, according to the suit, one person who was already a tenant in one of Fane’s buildings, Cherri Caldwell, sought an apartment in one of his other buildings, the Commons West. When she stated that she would be using a Section 8 voucher to pay, she was also told that the company does not accept those vouchers. It is unclear whether or not Caldwell was forced from the housing she already lived in, owned by Fane, but the suit does allege that she had to wait a substantial amount of time before she was able to move to somewhere Fane didn’t own.

“Irreparable harm has resulted from Respondents’ refusal to rent to any person
with a voucher based solely on their source of income,” claims the suit. “For instance, Ms. Caldwell was forced to risk her mental and physical health for months while she waited to move into an apartment building, not owned or managed by Respondents. Moreover, the male individual [homeless advocate Megan Cosgrove] was assisting remained homeless for at least one year after Respondents’ denial of tenancy before he was able to move into an apartment where he had been on a wait list to rent.”

Requests for comment from Fane or Lyman were not answered in time for publication. Over the last two months or so, James has announced a series of legal pursuits against landlords violating a variety of laws throughout New York, including in Syracuse, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

James’ announcement includes a quote from New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles, who called housing a basic human right and stated that access to stable housing has a domino effect on the community, public safety and the economy.

“Even landlords, especially small landlords, need regulations and protections and each one is hurt by the bad actors in a community,” Kelles said. “Housing should not be exclusively a commodity market. It must be balanced with human rights and dignity. I applaud Attorney General James for investigating and holding potential bad actors accountable.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com