Press Release: Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brooklyn Landlord Accused of Race Discrimination

Brooklyn, NY – On April 29, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (E.D.N.Y.) alleging that the owners and managers of an apartment building in Brooklyn discriminate against African American renters. 

This case resulted from an undercover testing investigation conducted in 2012 by the FHJC in which several teams of comparably qualified African American and white testers, posing as prospective renters, inquired about apartments at a 59-unit rental building in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.  The lawsuit names Merz Realty Co.; its principals, Hal Shapiro and Barry Shapiro; and agents Ula Zatorski and Zdislaw Zatorski as defendants.  According to the lawsuit, Ms. Zatorski, the building super at 7502 Ridge Blvd., repeatedly informed African American testers that either no apartments were available or that apartments would not be available for months, while white testers were told about and shown available apartments.

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 plaintiffs are represented by Eric Hecker and Mariann Meier Wang with the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang, LLP.

“The testing makes clear that African Americans were routinely turned away or treated worse than their white counterparts,” Mariann Wang stated. She added, “Such behavior propagates segregation, which simply cannot be tolerated.”    

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented, “The intentionally deceptive and racially discriminatory practices documented by our investigation should offend the sensibilities of all New Yorkers.  Without pro-active testing by the FHJC, these deplorable practices would go undetected and unreported.  Legal action is necessary to ensure that this affordable rental housing becomes equally available to African American renters.  For fair housing laws to have meaning, they must be vigorously enforced.”    

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). 

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.