A Queens landlord has been fined $17,000 for threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a late-paying tenant. Although the city’s human-rights law legally classifies threatening to call ICE as unlawful discrimination, the case is one of a kind. As the Wall Street Journal notes, “Lawyers for the [Commission on Human Rights] said they believe it is the first case in the country where an individual was fined for threatening to call immigration authorities.”
The landlord in question, Dianna Lysius, allegedly sent numerous threatening text messages and emails to then-tenant Holly Ondaan, who is an immigrant from Guyana with European Union citizenship. At the time of the threats in 2018, Ondaan was living in the landlord’s property in Jamaica, Queens, and wasn’t legally authorized to be in the U.S. (Per the ruling, she has since gotten a green card.)
Several months after Ondaan stopped paying rent, Lysius began eviction proceedings and allegedly threatened to alert ICE if the tenant did not pay that day. She also allegedly sent the tenant a link to a news story about an ICE raid on 7-Elevens, presumably as an intimidation tactic. (ICE crackdowns on New York immigrants had become increasingly common in 2017.) The landlord, however, disputes these claims, telling the Wall Street Journal that she never sent those threatening texts and emails.
In any event, the tenant subsequently contacted the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which took on the complaint against the landlord. On September 12th, an administrative judge ordered Lysius to pay a $5,000 fine and $12,000 in damages to the tenant. (The landlord reportedly plans to appeal the ruling.) Ondaan has since moved out of the property and has separately been ordered to pay more than $6,000 in back rent.
The case reflects the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment since Donald Trump’s election. Though the ruling is unique, there have been many other reported instances of landlords making similar threats, in New York and elsewhere. In 2017, Citylab reported that “landlords across California are threatening to report undocumented tenants to immigration authorities.” In one particularly galling example from that story, a landlord threatened deportation against a single mother of three if she did not sign a rent increase.
In New York—where ICE courthouse arrests have left immigrants increasingly vulnerable since Trump took office—there has also been a substantial spike in claims of housing discrimination based on immigration status, according to the Commission on Human Rights.