Opening Acts Newsletter: December 9, 2014

Westchester Landlord Sued for Housing Discrimination

Race Discrimination at Suburban Apartment Complex is “Just the way it goes”

On December 8, 2014, an African American woman who applied to rent an apartment, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), and two African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal District Court (SDNY) alleging that the owners and managers of an apartment complex located in the Westchester County suburb of New Rochelle discriminate against African American renters.  The lawsuit named, as defendants, Fraken Builders, Inc., La Sala Mason Corp., Rochambeau Realty & Development Corp., Andrew LaSala, and Andrea La Sala Suter.

The complaint alleges that in June 2013, Donna P., an African American woman, applied for an apartment at the 216-unit Pelham East Apartments located at 769 Pelham Road and was put on a “waiting list.”  Ms. P. repeatedly checked back by phone and was told every time that no apartments were available.  By June 2014, Ms. P. was told by an agent for Pelham East Apartments that there were apartments coming available and that her application was at the “top of the list.”  She was encouraged to check back in a week.  Unable to reach the agent by phone, Ms. P. returned to visit the rental office.  Upon seeing Ms. P., the agent changed her story and stated that there were no apartments coming available.  Frustrated that her patience and persistence did not result in her getting an apartment, Ms. P. subsequently contacted the FHJC about the alleged discriminatory conduct.

In response to the information provided by Ms. P., the FHJC conducted a testing investigation in which teams of comparably qualified African American and white testers were deployed to the Pelham East Apartments to inquire about available apartments.  The FHJC investigation corroborated the allegations and found that agents for the owner were misrepresenting to African American testers that no apartments were available, while providing information about available apartments and showing apartments to comparably qualified white testers.  On one test, a white male tester was told about two available apartments, shown a vacant apartment, and encouraged to apply. In contrast, less than two hours later an African American male tester was told that no apartments were available and that there were “at least a dozen people ahead of him on a waitlist.”  The agent told the tester that he was sorry to tell him the bad news, but that’s “just the way it goes.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws.  The plaintiffs are represented by Mariann Meier Wang and Alice G. Reiter with the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “This case provides further evidence that systemic housing discrimination based on race and color persists in all parts of the metropolitan region.  Once again, we find African American renters being lied to about available apartments, quoted later dates of availability, and told about fictional waiting lists, while white renters are informed about, shown, and encouraged to apply for available apartments.  African Americans will not have equal access to the full range of available housing opportunities until this type of pernicious conduct is stopped.”  Freiberg added, “Government at all levels must be more pro-active and devote more resources to vigorously enforce fair housing laws.”

Shop and Help Fight Housing Discrimination 

If you shop on Amazon.com, you have another way to support the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC).  Go to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/20-8681674 and log in as usual or just log in to your existing account at Smile.Amazon.com and search for “Fair Housing Justice Center” in the search bar under “Or pick your own charitable organization.”  Once you select the FHJC, shop for the holidays and throughout the year and 0.5% of your eligible purchases will be donated to the FHJC.  

Happy shopping and thanks for your support!