Opening Acts Newsletter: May 21, 2014

Woodlawn Landlord Turns Away African Americans

FHJC Testing Investigation Documents Discriminatory Practices

On May 21, 2014, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African American testers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that a landlord who controls rental housing in the Bronx discriminates against African Americans. The suit alleges that J.J.A. Holding Corporation and one of its managers, Ray Brij-Raj, engaged in racially discriminatory rental practices.

According to the complaint, one of the defendants, Mr. Brij-Raj, told a white tester that the company never advertises available rental units because “if you run ads, you get all kinds of things.” Instead, the company relies on its mostly white tenant population to locate and refer prospective applicants to fill vacant apartments because, as Mr. Brij-Raj stated to one white tester, it is more likely a “good tenant” will recommend “someone good.” This type of referral process and the decision to withhold units from the open market limits the number of African Americans that will likely have access to available rental units in the Woodlawn community whose population, according to the 2010 Census, is less than 5% African American. By comparison, the 2010 Census reveals that over 36% of the total population in the Bronx is African American.

The FHJC conducted a testing investigation in 2013 and 2014. African American testers inquired about apartments at rent-stabilized buildings located at 360 E. 234th Street and 4300 Martha Avenue, both owned by J.J.A. Holding. On two separate occasions, Defendant Brij-Raj met with African American testers only seconds after white testers had expressed disinterest in an available apartment shown to them by Mr. Brij-Raj. In both of these encounters, the manager misrepresented to African American testers that an apartment had just been rented to the white testers who were leaving the buildings as the African American testers arrived. In one instance, the agent even denied to an African American tester that he was the agent responsible for providing information about rentals at buildings controlled by J.J.A Holding. While Mr. Brij-Raj told white testers that the rent for one bedroom apartments was $1175, he told one African American tester that he did not know what the rents were and told another African American tester that rents ranged from $1275-1300 a month.

FHJC President Gene Capello stated “These defendants control access to affordable rental units in the predominantly white Woodlawn neighborhood. The facts alleged in the lawsuit depict a landlord who does not publicly advertise available rentals, uses word of mouth and referrals from existing tenants to rent apartments, and lies to African Americans about rents and available apartments. This is very troubling news for African Americans seeking housing.”

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented “It is disgraceful that the company that built these apartment buildings in Woodlawn over 80 years ago is discriminating against African American renters in 2014. Freiberg added “Housing providers who believe they can ‘get away’ with violating the law by engaging in the type of devious and deceitful conduct that is detailed in this complaint should think again. Racial discrimination in housing is illegal and the FHJC will continue to vigorously enforce fair housing laws by documenting discriminatory barriers that restrict access to housing and reinforce residential segregation.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws as well as damages and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

The testing, conducted by the FHJC, was funded under a grant from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

Race Discrimination Case Settled in Flatbush

5 Year Agreement To Ensure Compliance with Fair Housing Laws

On May 14, 2014, Federal Judge William F. Kuntz, II approved a consent decree which resolved a rental discrimination case filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers in 2013. The lawsuit alleged that the owners and managers of an apartment building in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn were discriminating against African American renters.

The case resulted from an investigation conducted by the FHJC in which African American and white testers posing as prospective renters were deployed to two rental buildings located at 592-596 E. 22nd Street in Brooklyn to inquire about apartments. The investigation disclosed that African American renters were provided different information from their white counterparts about available apartments.

Under the order, the defendants agree to comply with fair housing laws, adopt a non-discrimination policy, and participate in fair housing training. In addition, the defendants, East 22nd St. Towers LLC, East 22 St. Realty LLC and Joseph Lichtman, agree to publicly advertise apartments; display fair housing posters; post a sign in the buildings indicating how people might inquire about apartments; place a non-discrimination policy on rental applications; maintain rental records and allow inspection by the FHJC; and pay the plaintiffs $120,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. The order lasts for five years and applies to the rental buildings located at 592-596 E. 22nd St and 567 E. 22nd Street in Brooklyn.

The plaintiffs were represented by Mariann Meier Wang with the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang, LLP.