Opening Acts Newsletter: October 23, 2012

Settlement Opens Brooklyn Rental Buildings to African Americans

On March 19, 2012, the Fair Housing Justice Center and four African American testers filed a federal lawsuit alleging the owners and managers of apartment buildings in Brooklyn were discriminating against African American prospective renters. The lawsuit resulted from a systemic testing investigation conducted in 2010 and 2011. According to the complaint, when comparably qualified African American and white testers visited two buildings owned by the defendants, white testers were told about available apartments and provided truthful information about rents while their African American counterparts were falsely told no apartments were available and/or quoted higher rents.

On October 11, 2012, the Honorable Judge Brian M. Cogan signed a settlement agreement which includes an injunction to ensure compliance with fair housing laws and a monetary recovery of $225,000 to cover damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. In addition, defendants Revlyn Apartments LLC and Shorefront Apartments LLC agreed to adopt, display, and distribute a non-discrimination policy, train all of their employees on local, state, and federal fair housing laws, maintain certain rental records and make them available to the FHJC throughout the three years that the order remains in effect. The injunctive relief applies to three rental buildings, a 58-unit building located at 303 99th Street in Bay Ridge, a 116-unit building located at 2250 East 4th Street in Gravesend, and a 94-unit building located at 1735 East 13th Street in Sheepshead Bay. 

FHJC President Gene Capello remarked, “While it is regrettable that FHJC testing continues to uncover discriminatory barriers in the housing market, this agreement is an excellent outcome.” Capello added, “The settlement opens up nearly three hundred rental units, alters policies and practices, and ensures future compliance with fair housing laws.” The plaintiffs were represented by Attorneys Diane L. Houk and Julia Einbond with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

Tenants with Disabilities Allege Discrimination in NYCHA Lawsuit

On August 13, 2012 three tenants at the Fulton Houses on West 17th Street in Manhattan filed a lawsuit alleging that the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) failure to provide a safe and accessible entrance for residents with disabilities constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law. The FHJC received and investigated a complaint from one of the plaintiffs, a woman with disabilities, who was residing in the NYCHA housing.

The complaint alleged that a ramp to the entrance of the building was too steep and prevented tenants with disabilities from safely leaving or entering the building. The FHJC referred her to MFY Legal Services for legal representation.

In filing the federal lawsuit, MFY Legal Services issued a news release. MFY Attorney Orier Okumakpeyi stated, “the ramp is so dangerous that these women can’t navigate it on their own. Even when they have help, there have been accidents and close calls.” Okumakpeyi added, “NYCHA has agreed that the ramp needs to be fixed, but after six years of complaints, it has still done nothing.” The MFY release described one example:

“On one occasion, a 67-year old woman who has multiple health problems that require her to use a wheelchair traveled down the steep ramp accompanied by her home attendant. Near the bottom, the wheelchair tilted sideways with one set of wheels becoming airborne and the other set sliding out of control toward the metal railing and concrete wall. The tenant, who has suffered three heart attacks and three strokes, was deeply shaken and only averted physical harm when several people nearby caught the wheelchair before impact.” 

Kevin Cremin, MFY’s Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights, stated the laws are very clear and that “NYCHA has to have an accessible entrance for its residents who have disabilities.” In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.