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Opening Acts: October 8, 2020

United States Files Fair Housing Lawsuit Against Staten Island Realty Firm for Race Discrimination

DOJ TESTING PROGRAM DOCUMENTS REALTOR CONDUCT THAT TREATED PROSPECTIVE RENTERS DIFFERENTLY BASED ON RACE

On September 30, the United State Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a federal fair housing lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York alleging that Village Realty of Staten Island LTD. and real estate agent Denis Donovan engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.    

In 2018, DOJ deployed African American testers and white testers to inquire about renting apartments through real estate licensee Denis Donovan at Village Realty.  The complaint alleges that the testing revealed discriminatory conduct including, but not limited to, the following: 

  • The agent told African American testers that fewer listings were available for rent than he mentioned to white testers;
  • The agent offered white testers an opportunity to inspect apartments upon entering the realty office, while African American testers were told they would have to arrange to inspect apartments at a later date;
  • The agent offered African American testers rental units only in integrated neighborhoods, while offering white testers rental units in both overwhelmingly white areas and integrated areas; and
  • The agent made encouraging comments to white testers about the features of available rental units and the surrounding community, while failing to make such comments to African American tester and making discouraging comments about some of the units to African American testers. 

In the lawsuit, the United States seeks an injunction to stop the discrimination, monetary damages for any aggrieved persons; a civil penalty; and other relief as may be ordered by the court.  The case was filed by attorneys for the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg, who helped establish the fair housing testing program in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in 1992 and directed it for over seven years, expressed his appreciation to the Department for having conducted a systemic testing investigation into race discrimination on Staten Island.  Freiberg stated, “This shows that the federal government is capable of documenting racially discriminatory practices and enforcing fair housing laws.  We hope that DOJ will take more actions like this to address systemic discrimination based on race in our housing market and others across the nation.”         

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.