Opening Acts Newsletter: March 19, 2013

FHJC Settles Discrimination Case with NYC Realty Firm

On March 15, 2013, federal Judge Deborah Batts signed a settlement agreement resolving FHJC’s housing discrimination lawsuit against Bond NYC Properties Brokerage (Bond), a realty company with over 300 agents. The settlement provides extensive injunctive relief and a total monetary recovery of $212,500. In the settlement, Bond agrees to comply with fair housing laws; adopt an anti-discrimination policy; provide fair housing training to all Bond employees and agents; include the Equal Housing Opportunity logo in all advertising; update rental applications to capture non-employment sources of income, including housing subsidies, from prospective applicants; and maintain and make certain records available for inspection by the FHJC for a period of three years.

In 2008-2009, the FHJC conducted an investigation in response to a complaint from Damion Cales, a formerly homeless man with disabilities who had a rental subsidy from the City of New York. The investigation found that real estate agents for multiple real estate companies were discriminating based on disability and source of income. In April 2010, Mr. Cales and the FHJC filed a lawsuit against ten real estate companies and their agents alleging disability and source of income discrimination in violation of fair housing laws.

The settlement with Bond ends the litigation. As a result of this case, Mr. Cales received monetary damages and a rent-stabilized apartment. The FHJC obtained broad equitable relief from several large real estate companies, Bond, City Connections, and Bayside Keller Williams, and reached agreements with several smaller real estate firms for damages, training, and policy changes. In addition, default judgments were obtained against some small real estate companies that failed to answer the original complaint. The case resulted in a total monetary recovery in excess of $550,000. Mr. Cales was represented by the Urban Justice Center and the FHJC was represented by Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated “This case demonstrates that, when people exercise their rights and fair housing laws are vigorously enforced, barriers to housing choice are removed, practices are changed, and greater compliance is achieved.”

 

Register for Free Accessibility Workshops

The FHJC is sponsoring two free workshops on accessibility in 2013. The workshops, entitled Accessible Housing: A Civil Right,will offer vital information on federal fair housing accessibility requirements for the design and construction of multi-family housing. The workshops will provide architects, builders, contractors, building engineers, real estate professionals, attorneys, government officials, disability rights advocates, and others with detailed and reliable information about federal fair housing accessibility requirements. Two nationally known experts on housing accessibility, Attorney Scott Moore, a partner with the law firm of Baird Holm LLP in Omaha, and Jack Catlin, a founding partner with LCM Architects of Chicago, will provide the instruction at each workshop.

The first workshop will be held on Thursday, April 11, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn Sheraton Hotel located at 228 Duffield Street in Brooklyn, NY. The second workshop will be held on Thursday, December 12, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) located at 365 Fifth Avenue, Skylight Room 9100, New York, NY. Seating is limited and you must register in advance to attend either workshop. The deadline for registering for the April 11th workshop is April 4, 2013 and the registration deadline for attending the December 12th workshop is December 5, 2013. Persons interested in attending one of these workshops should call (212) 400-8207 or email: fhjc@fairhousingjustice.org.

The accessibility workshops are co-sponsored by the Center of Independence of the Disabled New York (CIDNY) and the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID). Funding for the workshops is provided by the Fair Housing Initiatives Program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

Planning to Pay Rent with a Section 8 Voucher?

Call-Us Realty Says Don’t Call Us

On January 25, 2013, a lawsuit filed in Kings County state court alleges that a Brooklyn-based real estate company and a licensed real estate agent are discriminating on the basis of source of income by refusing to make apartments available to households with federal rental subsidies. The lawsuit alleges that Call-Us Realty and real estate agent Agnieszka Kondratowicz discriminated against Astrid Pitt because she has a Section 8 housing voucher. In New York City, the Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in housing based on source of income including housing subsidies.

According to the complaint, Ms. Pitt is a woman with two children who was searching for housing and planning to use a Section 8 housing voucher to help pay the rent. In July 2010, Ms. Pitt noticed a sign posted on a building in Bay Ridge listing “Apartments Available” along with a phone number. She called the telephone number to inquire about apartments in Brooklyn and spoke with a real estate agent who told her about available two-bedroom apartments within her price range in the Dyker Heights neighborhood. When Ms. Pitt mentioned that she would be using a Section 8 voucher to pay the rent, the agent allegedly stated that the landlords she worked with would accept “no programs.” Ms. Pitt subsequently contacted the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) to file a housing discrimination complaint.

In response to her complaint, the FHJC conducted a testing investigation. A female tester, posing as a household with two children who was planning to use a Section 8 voucher to pay the rent, contacted Call-Us Realty. The tester spoke with Ms. Kondratowicz who told the tester about available rental housing within her price range. However, when the subject of a Section 8 voucher came up in the conversation the agent allegedly stated “no, sorry” and informed the tester that the landlords she worked with did “not accept vouchers” and added that “the owners, they do not want to work with programs.” On the same day, another tester posing as a household with two children and income solely from employment spoke with the same agent who allegedly asked the tester “you do not have any programs, no government project to pay your rent?” After confirming that the tester planned to pay her rent with income from employment, the tester was shown and/or told about six available two-bedroom apartments within her price range in Brooklyn. 

In her lawsuit, Ms. Pitt is asking for injunctive relief, damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. Ms. Pitt is represented by the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP.