BOCA RATON - Hardly a day goes by without doctors and nurses being hailed as heroes for working dangerous and mentally and emotionally exhausting hospital shifts caring for coronavirus patients.
Greta Tremmel (right) with Bill Wright, Delray Beach, (left) protest along Camino Real outside the Boca View condos in Boca Raton Friday afternoon, May 1, 2020. Tremmel is trying to rent her apartment out to Jennifer Piraino, who is a nurse. Tremmel claims Boca View is rejecting Piraino’s application because she is a nurse.
However, actively asking residents if
they have the virus has not been an issue - yet.
Neither Eric Estebanez, the founder of the property management firm, Pointe Management Group in Delray Beach, nor the condo association president, Diana Kuka, responded to requests for comment.
Piraino says she left her rental application with Pointe Management Group on Friday, April 24. The following Monday, she got a call telling her to pick up the paperwork and the $100 money order she dropped off for a background check. When she asked why, she was told she was rejected “just with everything going on.”
The fact that the money order wasn’t cashed suggests to her that Pointe Management Group – which touts its “aggressive management style” on its website -- rejected her without even doing a background check, Piraino said.
There is no other reason than her job, Piraino said, that she and her boyfriend, who is a civil engineer, would be denied. “We both have good incomes,” she said.
About the same time Piraino submitted her application, the condo unit’s owner, Tremmel, said she got a phone call from Kuka, the association president, inquiring about her prospective tenant. Tremmel says she informed Kuka that Piraino is an ICU nurse.
“No, we can’t have a nurse in this building,” was Kuka’s response, according to Tremmel. Kuka hasn’t spoken to her since, she added. She then phoned Estebanez, who said, “We’re only doing what the board told us to do,” Tremmel contends.
Tremmel filed a complaint on behalf of herself and Piraino with the Office of Equal Opportunity of Palm Beach County, which, among other things, investigates violations of fair housing laws.
Kuka and Estebanez might contend that if they barred Piraino from renting at Boca View it was because of a desire to provide a safe living environment for other residents.
Federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of seven protected classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. None of those appears to apply to Piraino, but federal law also protects people who are “associated with” someone with a disability.
Health care workers elsewhere also have spurred fear. Travel nurses who work for staffing agencies on short-term assignments have been abruptly evicted from their homes across the country, according to an article in the Daily Beast. And nurses and other health care workers have been physically attacked and threatened in countries that include Mexico, the Philippines and India because of fears that they are spreading the coronavirus.
Piraino says she understands concerns about residents’ safety, given her occupation. She is trained to take precautions when treating COVID-19 patients, and knows who has the virus beforehand, she said. She has the equipment she needs to be safe. She added that she has tested negative for the virus.
Piraino said she thinks there is more risk visiting a supermarket or a pharmacy where one doesn’t know who might have the virus, and wears far less protective gear.
“I feel the unknown is riskier than the known,” Piraino said. “What you can’t see is the problem. I feel like more knowledge about it is helpful to everybody."