Michelle and her husband didn’t know where to turn. She knew that they needed to do something, to find someone who could help them. But at the beginning, it seemed as if there was no one who could bring them justice.
It started during a snow storm. Michelle and her husband were looking for an apartment in Brooklyn and one day found the apartment they had been searching for. They were the only ones who came to see the apartment that day because of the raging storm outside. The previous tenant showed them the apartment and thought that Michelle and her husband were perfect candidates. The tenant even decided that she wouldn’t show anyone else this apartment, because Michelle and her husband were sure to be approved.
That night, Michelle’s husband called the management company responsible for the apartment. Her husband and the agent spoke at length about their strong qualifications for this apartment – Michelle and her husband both have good salaries, excellent credit scores, and owned other property. Over the phone, the agent concurred that Michelle and her husband were excellent candidates. The agent faxed them the application that night, and, upon receiving their filled-out application, asked Michelle’s husband to come to the management office the next morning to complete the application.
It did not take long after Michelle’s husband arrived in the management office the next morning to realize something was off. When he arrived, the agents were surprised when he explained why he was there. Upon offering his ID to be copied for the application, he was told that he would need to have a copy made somewhere else as their copy machine was broken. Michelle’s husband dutifully complied, only to be told that the agent would not accept his application fee. The agent explained that there was no point in him finishing the application as there were already people ahead of them on the waiting list. He went home and discussed what happened with Michelle. They decided to call the tenant who had shown them the apartment and ask her about what happened. The tenant told Michelle and her husband that she had never heard of any waiting list for her apartment.
“At that point, we knew that the agent was lying to us,” Michelle explained. Michelle and her husband suspected that they were being discriminated against because they are African American, and decided to find someone to help them remedy this.
Michelle and her husband contacted multiple government agencies to figure out who would be willing and able to help them. Eventually, one of their contacts referred Michelle and her husband to the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC). The FHJC spoke extensively with Michelle and her husband about what happened and conducted a testing investigation, the results of which confirmed that discriminating against people based on race was this management company’s standard business practice. Michelle and her husband, along with the FHJC, sued the management company and the company agreed to a settlement.
For Michelle, the experience of exercising her fair housing rights and working with the FHJC was positive in every way. And not only because of the successful outcome of the case. Michelle found that learning about the work the FHJC does was also very heartening. “We got very discouraged and despondent at a certain point in our quest to find someone to take on this management company,” Michelle explained. “But when we found the FHJC, not only did they say that they felt confident that they could take our case, but that the FHJC does this all the time. Taking on discriminatory housing providers is the FHJC’s reason for existing.”
This story is part of a series called A Place to Call Home, which highlights the experiences of complainants who have experienced or witnessed discrimination in housing and whose lives were positively changed by exercising their fair housing rights. If you or someone you know has encountered discriminatory housing practices, please contact the FHJC.