Press Release: December 5, 2012

FHJC Rental Testing Reveals Race Discrimination

New York, NY – On December 5, 2012, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African American testers filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the owner and manager of a 107-unit apartment building located in Sunnyside, Queens discriminate against African American renters. The lawsuit is based on the results of a testing investigation completed by the FHJC earlier this year. The building owner, NASA Real Estate Corporation, and the building superintendent, Irfan Bekdemir, were named as defendants in the case.

The complaint alleges that African American and white testers consistently received different information, treatment, and service. During the investigation, white testers were told about and shown available apartments. The building super encouraged white testers to rent apartments and even lowered the rents. In stark contrast, the same agent lied to all of the African American testers about available apartments and prevented them from viewing available apartments. The agent further discouraged African American testers by providing untruthful or misleading information and quoting higher rents.

In addition, the building super made numerous statements to the white testers about his rental practices: “This building is choice people, not everybody” and that he would lower the rent from $1500 to $1400 for “nice people, nice family.” The building super told another white tester, “I chose the people…you look like nice people, that’s why I show you.” The same agent did not make these comments to any of the African American testers.

According to the 2010 Census, African American renter households reside in fewer than 2% of all renter occupied housing units in this area of Sunnyside, Queens. In contrast, African American renters comprise 18% of all renter households in Queens and 27% of all renter households in New York City.

Over the past few years, FHJC systemic testing investigations have uncovered discriminatory practices by housing providers in New York City and surrounding suburban areas. According to FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg, “Testing is the only investigative tool capable of comparing and documenting how similarly qualified renters of different races are being treated in the housing market. Renters are often unaware that discrimination is occurring. If housing discrimination is not detected, it is not reported. Yet, these odious practices restrict housing choice and perpetuate residential segregation.” This testing investigation was funded by a Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) grant that was awarded to the FHJC by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws as well as damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. The FHJC and the three testers are represented by Elizabeth S. Saylor, Diane L. Houk, and Vasudha Talla with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

Contacts:

Fred Freiberg, FHJC Executive Director
(212) 400-8201 or ffreiberg@fairhousingjustice.org

Elizabeth Saylor, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP
(212) 763-5000, esaylor@ecbalaw.com