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Opening Acts: February 29, 2016

Race Discrimination Lawsuit Involving Suffolk County Apartment Complex Resolved

Landlord to Pay $230,000 and Take Steps to Comply with Fair Housing Laws

On Thursday, February 25, 2016, Federal Judge Naomi R. Buchwald approved the settlement of a rental discrimination case filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), ERASE Racism, and seven African American testers in April 2015.  The lawsuit alleged that the Manhattan-based Empire Management America Corp., Square Realty Group LLC. and a resident manager at the Mayfair Gardens Apartments in Commack in the Town of Smithtown were discriminating against African American renters. 

This case resulted from a six-month testing investigation conducted by the FHJC in 2014.  Teams of African American and white testers, posing as comparably qualified prospective renters, inquired about apartments at the 107-unit suburban apartment complex located in the predominantly white Town of Smithtown in Suffolk County.  The complaint alleged that African American testers, unlike their white counterparts, were lied to about available apartments or when apartments would be available, shown fewer apartments, informed about fictional waiting lists, quoted higher rents, and/or were not provided with rental applications.  The investigation was jointly funded and sponsored by the FHJC and ERASE Racism, a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing and eliminating racial disparities on Long Island.  

The defendants agreed to comply with fair housing laws, adopt a non-discrimination policy and distribute it to employees and agents, display the HUD equal housing opportunity poster, publicly advertise available apartments, provide fair housing training to its employees, maintain rental records, and permit ERASE Racism to inspect records for a period of four years.   Finally, the defendants agreed to pay $230,000 to the plaintiffs in damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.  The plaintiffs were represented by Diane L. Houk and Theodor O. Oxholm with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

Following the settlement, ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said, “Discrimination based on the race or color of a person prevents individuals and families from accessing the benefits of living in communities of opportunity.  This discrimination is not only illegal, but serves as a significant barrier to ensuring that people have fair housing choice.  ERASE Racism is pleased to have obtained a positive outcome and hopes that this settlement will provide African Americans, who constitute approximately 1% of Smithtown’s population, access to Smithtown, a town whose population is over 95% white, and its good public schools.”

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated “We are very pleased that this agreement will open up rental housing opportunities at this suburban apartment complex.”  Freiberg added “Continuing racial discrimination limits housing choices available to African Americans, fortifies existing patterns of residential segregation, and perpetuates myriad inequalities in our metropolitan region.  It is a painful and poignant reminder that we are not living in a post-racial society and that our efforts to eradicate racially discriminatory housing practices must continue.”