Opening Acts Newsletter: March 5, 2014

Brooklyn Race Discrimination Case Settled

Settlement Applies to 16 Rental Buildings; Landlord Pays $212,000

On March 3, 2014, federal Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak signed an order resolving a housing discrimination case. The apartment owners and managers, while denying liability, agreed to comply with fair housing laws and implement procedures to ensure non-discrimination in their rental practices. Sixteen buildings, containing over 900 rental units, are covered by the settlement. This settlement ends a housing discrimination lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers. Kara Realty, LLC, Goder Realty Corporation, Ocean Empire Management LLC, Ehud Livne, and Ivan Sheumeyko were named as defendants in the lawsuit that was filed in April 2013.

The original complaint stemmed from a FHJC testing investigation in which four African American testers were told that no apartments were available, while the white testers with whom they were matched were told about and shown available apartments at 1641 Ocean Ave and 1463 Ocean Ave in Midwood, Brooklyn. The complaint alleged that this conduct violated fair housing laws by discriminating against African American prospective renters on the basis of race.

According to the settlement, the defendant owners and management company agree to adopt, post, and distribute a fair housing policy; require employees and agents to participate in fair housing training; ensure that available rental units are publicly advertised on www.craigslist.org; and require uniform standards and procedures for showing available apartments, dispensing information about available apartments, providing rental applications, and maintaining waiting lists.

Under a unique provision of the settlement, the owner will notify tenants residing in five of the defendants’ buildings that the tenants may, if they choose, add their names to a waiting list in order to receive priority consideration for any apartments that come available at the rent-stabilized buildings located at 1463 Ocean Avenue or 1641 Ocean Avenue. The FHJC hopes that this provision will create an opportunity for tenants residing in defendants’ buildings located in predominantly African American Brooklyn neighborhoods to move to rent-stabilized buildings in the predominantly white MIdwood neighborhood if they so choose.

The order provides that the defendants will maintain rental records and the FHJC will monitor compliance with the agreement for a period of three years. Additionally, the defendant owners and management company agreed to pay the FHJC and four African American testers a total of $212,000 for damages and attorneys’ fees. The plaintiffs were represented by Katherine Rosenfeld and Diane L. Houk with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated “The fact that some New Yorkers still find their ability to access housing turns on their race, national origin, or color is disgraceful and unacceptable. If fair housing laws are to have meaning, they must be vigorously enforced.” Freiberg added, “The FHJC will continue to be pro-active and conduct testing investigations to identify discriminatory barriers that still exist and, where necessary, take legal action to open up housing opportunities and bring housing provider practices into compliance with fair housing laws.”

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