Opening Acts: October 27, 2016

FHJC Investigation Reveals Race Discrimination at Brooklyn Rental Building

African Americans Lied to About Availability, Quoted Higher Rents, and Steered to Other Buildings

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (EDNY) alleging Robert Rankell & Martin Rankell, LP, Robert Rankell, Martin Rankell, Anastas Karakisidi, and Faina Karakisidi discriminated on the basis of race. Robert Rankell & Martin Rankell, LP, owns and manages a 60-unit residential building located at 1695 East 21st Street in Midwood, a predominately white Brooklyn neighborhood.  The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ practices constitute discrimination based on race in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, the Federal Civil Rights Act, New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law.

The FHJC conducted a five-month testing investigation, which repeatedly found that white testers were welcomed and ushered into available apartments while African American testers were lied to about availability, quoted higher rents, and steered to other buildings.  Some of the results of these tests are as follows:

  • On May 13, 2016, a white man went to the apartment building and spoke to the building Superintendent (Anastas Karaksidi) about whether any apartments were available to rent. The Super told the white tester about a one bedroom apartment that was available for $1,450 per month.  The Super also showed the white tester the apartment. Less than twenty minutes later, an African American man arrived at the building and knocked on the Super’s door to inquire about an apartment. The Super’s wife (Faina Karaksidi) called her husband and then told the African American tester that her husband said that no apartments were available and encouraged him to inquire again in the “summertime.”
  • On May 17, 2016, the Super called back two white male testers who had each previously visited the building, asked if they were still interested in the one bedroom apartment that was available for $1,450 and additionally mentioned a two bedroom apartment that was coming available.  That same day, an African American man met with the Super and asked if there were any one bedroom apartments available for rent.  The Super said he had no one bedroom apartments available.  When the African American tester asked when one would be available, the Super said that a one bedroom would not be available for two to three months.  When the tester asked the Super how much a one bedroom apartment would cost, the Super responded $1,700. The Super, without asking anything about the tester’s income or ability to pay, mentioned that the apartments were “expensive.” The Super then pointed to a nearby building and told the African American tester that the rent there would be less expensive.
  • On June 21, 2016, a white woman visited the building asking about two bedroom apartments available for rent.  The Super showed the tester a two bedroom that rented for $2,050 and stated it would be available in two weeks. He also told her about a one bedroom which would also be available soon. On July 5, 2016, an African American woman spoke with the Super’s wife and inquired about one or two bedroom apartments available to rent.   After calling her husband, the Super’s wife informed the tester that no apartments were available. The tester also asked about rent on 2 bedroom apartments and she was told that the rent was “very expensive.”  When the woman said she and her husband could afford to pay up to $2,200, the Super’s wife said she was not sure about the rent.
  • On July 19, 2016, a white man visited the apartment building.  The tester was told about and shown a one bedroom apartment renting for $1,500.  During that visit, the white tester told the Super that his wife had texted with news that she had found an apartment in another building and that they were no longer interested in this building.  Approximately ten minutes later, an African American man arrived at the building and met with the Super and asked if a one bedroom apartment was available for rent.  The Super told him that no one bedroom apartments were available. The man asked when a one bedroom might be available, and the Super responded “maybe in wintertime.”  The man asked about what the rent would be for a one bedroom in the building, and the Super told him $1,600. The Super told the African American tester that people in the building do not usually move during summertime, and then directed the man to other nearby apartment buildings.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “The facts, as alleged in this case, illustrate how the subtle, debilitating poison of racial discrimination continues to prevent African American renters from accessing affordable rental housing in some New York City buildings and neighborhoods.  Vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws is the only antidote to this insidious and intolerable conduct.”

The plaintiffs are seeking damages and injunctive relief that would bring the defendants into compliance with fair housing law and ensure non-discrimination in the future. The plaintiffs are represented by Mariann Wang and Alexander Goldenberg of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.