Judge Fines Landlord $17,000 for Threatening to Call ICE on Tenant

A judge ordered a landlord to pay a $5,000 fine to the city and $12,000 in damages to a tenant for threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on the tenant, in New York City. New York’s Commission on Human Rights brought the complaint against the Queens landlord to an administrative judge. The commission alleged that the landlord texted and emailed the tenant that she would call ICE if she didn’t pay her rent.

Threatening to call immigration enforcement is classified as discrimination under New York City’s human-rights law, according to the commission. Lawyers for the commission said they believe it is the first case in the country where an individual was fined for threatening to call immigration authorities.

City lawyers accused the landlord, 44-year-old Dianna Lysius, of sending multiple threatening text messages to her tenant, Holly Ondaan, 48, during a trial held over two days in May and June. Ms. Lysius said in an interview she didn’t send the texts and emails to Ms. Ondaan. She said she plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. “Everything in that report is false,” she said. Ms. Ondaan said in an interview that she is an immigrant from Guyana with European Union citizenship and wasn’t authorized to be in the U.S. at the time of the threats. She got her green card in July 2018, according to the ruling and Ms. Ondaan.

The case was one of 160 inquiries made to the commission in 2018 related to housing discrimination based on immigration status, a spike compared with prior years, a commission spokeswoman said. Sapna Raj, deputy commissioner of the commission’s law enforcement bureau, said that cases similar to this one have increasingly been brought before her office in part because of the increased attention to immigration nationwide. The Sept. 12 ruling was made by an administrative law judge for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which is responsible for handling cases brought by city agencies.

Ms. Ondaan had lived in Ms. Lysius’s Jamaica, Queens, property since 2011. However, Ms. Ondaan stopped paying rent in October 2017, according to the judge’s ruling. Ms. Lysius fell behind in mortgage payments and eventually sold the property in foreclosure, according to the ruling. Judge John B. Spooner said her “dire financial circumstances likely played a significant part in motivating her hostile messages.” In early January 2018, Ms. Lysius began eviction proceedings against Ms. Ondaan. On Jan. 11, Ms. Lysius wrote in a text message that she would call ICE on Ms. Ondaan if she didn’t pay rent that day. She later sent a link to an article about ICE officers raiding 7-Elevens to detain unauthorized workers.

After Ms. Ondaan reached out to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, the agency sent a letter on Jan. 17 to Ms. Lysius ordering her to cease threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities, according to the ruling. The next day, Ms. Lysius sent an email to Ms. Ondaan threatening to call ICE, the ruling said. “As a citizen of the country I must protect my country,” the email said, according to the ruling. Ms. Ondaan eventually moved out in October 2018, owing $14,400 in rent, according to the ruling. A housing-court decision in September 2018 said Ms. Ondaan would have to pay $6,895 of the back rent.