June 29, 1995
Mr. Steven Jackson
836 Peabody Road
Gouverneur, NY 13642
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Jackson:
I have received your letter of June 22, as well as the materials attached to it. You asked whether you are "within [your] rights as the father of the two boys" who reside at the Champion Apartments in West Carthage to obtain "copies of their applications for housing and also how much their rent is and who is paying it." You requested the documentation in question under the Freedom of Information Law, but you have received no response.
In this regard, the Freedom of Information Law is applicable to agency records. For purposes of that statute, the term "agency" is defined to mean:
"any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature" [see Public Officers Law, §86(3)].
Based on the foregoing, the Freedom of Information Law pertains to records maintained by entities of state and local government. If Champion Apartments is not part of government, it would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
Even if Champion Apartments is part of a public agency subject to the Freedom of Information Law, it is unlikely that it would be required to disclose the information sought.
As a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
The initial ground for denial would be relevant with respect to records relating to public housing. That provision, §87(2)(a), pertains to records that "are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute." Section 159 of the Public Housing Law provides guidance concerning the disclosure of information furnished by applicants for dwellings in projects maintained by public housing authorities. That statute states in part that:
"[I]nformation acquired by an authority or municipality or by an officer or employee thereof from applicants for dwellings in projects of an authority or municipality or from tenants of dwellings thereof or from members of the family of any such applicant or tenant or from employers of such persons or from any third person, whether voluntarily or by compulsory examination as provided in this chapter, shall be for the exclusive use and information of the authority or municipality in the discharge of its duties under this chapter and shall not be open to the public nor be used in any court in any action or proceeding pending therein unless the authority, municipality or successor in interest thereof is a party or complaining witness to such action or proceeding."
Based on the language quoted above, a public housing authority or municipality in possession of the kind of information in which you are interested could not disclose such information.
I hope that the foregoing serves to enhance your understanding of the matter and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman