Opening Acts: September 5, 2018

Lawsuit Cites Racist and Exclusionary Rental Practices

FHJC Investigations Continue to Yield Evidence that Racial Discrimination Persists 50 Years After Passage of Fair Housing Act

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and five African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (EDNY) alleging that Charm Equities LTD; Michael Kohn; Howard Kohn; Michael D’Antonio; Highway Realty LLC; and 1723 E 15 LLC are discriminating against African American renters in violation of local, state, and federal fair housing laws. Charm Equities appear to own or manage at least eleven rental buildings with nearly 450 units of rental housing in Brooklyn.

Over the past two years, the FHJC sent African American and white testers to 2410 Kings Highway and 1523 E. 15th Street, both located in predominantly white Brooklyn neighborhoods. The testers posed as prospective renters with similar socio-economic characteristics so that the primary difference between them was race. During the undercover investigation, defendants routinely told African American testers that no apartments were available while their white counterparts were told about, shown, and encouraged to rent apartments. Here are just two examples detailed in the complaint:

  • On one test, an agent lied to an African American tester about an available apartment. Then, a few hours later, the same agent told a white tester that “a black guy” had been there earlier in the day, but that “we try to be careful about who we rent to” because “it’s a nice neighborhood,” and that “if it was somebody who I didn’t think would be a good tenant, I would say they [the apartments] are taken.” The agent took the white tester to see two apartments, offered him an application, and encouraged him to apply.
  • On another test, an agent showed a white tester an available apartment and gave her a rental application. The agent asked the white tester if she had a picture of her spouse “[be]cause we like to see who’s renting it, you know.” The tester produced a photograph of a man she claimed was her husband. Based only on that photograph and seeing that he was white, the agent stated, “Okay, nice guy! Red head? Okay. Very good. Okay, great!” Before she left the building, the white tester informed the agent that she and her husband had located another apartment and she returned the application to him. The next day, an African American tester visited the building and met with the same agent. She was told that no apartments were available and that he had “a few people waiting” for an apartment. Several hours after the African American tester left the building, the white tester called the agent back, mentioned that the other apartment had not worked out and asked if the East 15th Street apartment was still available. The agent told her that it was and that she and her husband would certainly make “better tenants” than others who had expressed interest in the apartment.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “In 1968, the federal Fair Housing Act was enacted to explicitly prohibit racial discrimination in housing throughout our nation. Fifty years later, the FHJC finds housing providers are still violating the law with impunity, deviously making housing unavailable to African Americans, and reinforcing the color line in our region.” Freiberg added, “Testing makes it possible to unmask, document and challenge these pernicious practices. Without it, the practices would remain hidden. The FHJC uses testing to expose and eradicate housing policies and practices that continue to harm, exclude, and divide New Yorkers.”

FHJC’s President Robert Martin remarked, “Investigations like the one detailed in this complaint are time-consuming, costly, and divert scarce resources away from FHJC’s other enforcement, educational, and outreach activities. But the FHJC will investigate and bring legal challenges to stop this type of lawless behavior when it is uncovered. Continuing racial discrimination in housing undermines our mission to eliminate housing discrimination and frustrates our ongoing efforts to create a region of more open and inclusive communities.”

The plaintiffs are seeking damages and injunctive relief that would bring the defendants into compliance with fair housing laws and ensure non-discrimination in the future. The plaintiffs are represented by Mariann Meier Wang and Heather Gregorio 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 and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.