Press Release: Monday, August 5, 2013

Flatbush Landlord Accused of Racial Bias

FHJC Investigation Documents Race Discrimination in Gentrifying Buildings

New York, NY – On August 2, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (E.D.N.Y.) alleging that the owners and managers of apartment buildings located in Brooklyn discriminate against African Americans. The case resulted from an investigation conducted by the FHJC in which African American and white testers posing as prospective renters were deployed to two rental buildings located at 592-596 E. 22nd Street in Brooklyn to inquire about apartments. The investigation was commenced after the FHJC was contacted by the Flatbush Development Corporation. The lawsuit claims that the defendants, East 22nd Street Towers LLC, East 22 St. Realty LLC, Coney Management LLC, Kalman Zimmerman, Samuel Fleischman, Joseph Lichtman, and Mayer Fishman engaged in racially discriminatory practices in violation of fair housing laws.

The complaint alleges that the rent stabilized buildings on E. 22nd Street were neglected and in serious disrepair when they were occupied almost exclusively by Black tenants. When the defendants acquired the properties, units were eventually remodeled, but it appeared that Black tenants who remained in the building did not receive the same quality of renovations. Concern was expressed by tenant organizers that the owners were seeking to rent newly remodeled units to tenants who were not Black. In response to this concern, the FHJC conducted an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, African American testers were treated less favorably than their white counterparts on four tests. In stark contrast to the treatment accorded white testers, comparably qualified African American testers met with misinformation, discourtesies, and discouragement when inquiring about apartments for rent. On one test, a white tester was told about four apartments that were coming available in several weeks and, on the same day, an African American tester was told no apartments were available and none would be available for a couple of months. On the second test, an African American tester was informed that no apartment was available and that it could be “four to six weeks” and none would be available by October 1st. The same day, a white tester was shown an available apartment that was “just about ready” and that would be ready by October. On another test, an African American tester was treated rudely and quoted a security deposit requirement that was twice as much as the amount quoted to his white counterpart.

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

FHJC Executive Director Kumiki Gibson commented, “This case shows us how blatant race discrimination is – even in the 21st Century. Through this lawsuit, the FHJC will vindicate the rights of prospective tenants of all races and send a clear message that this type of discrimination will not be tolerated or condoned.”

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws in addition to monetary damages and attorney’s fees. The FHJC and the testers are represented by Mariann Meier Wang and Julie B. Ehrlich with the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang, LLP.

About FHJC: The mission of the FHJC is to challenge systemic housing discrimination, promote open, accessible, and inclusive communities, and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws. The FHJC assists individuals who encounter illegal housing discrimination by providing counseling on fair housing rights, investigative assistance, and referrals to administrative agencies and cooperating attorneys. Individuals who need assistance with housing discrimination complaints are encouraged to call the FHJC at (212) 400-8201.