Article

ECBAWM Files Housing Discrimination Complaint Against Dawn Homes Management, Large Upstate New York Landlord

On August 11, 2021, ECBAWM filed a housing discrimination complaint on behalf of Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. (“WRO”) against Dawn Homes Management with the New York State Division of Human Rights. WRO alleges that Dawn Homes, the operator of 36 apartment complexes in upstate New York, does not rent to tenants with rental subsidies or vouchers in violation of state law. Based on undercover testing done by WRO, the complaint alleges that Dawn Homes rental agents told prospective applicants that the company does not accept vouchers or applies minimum income requirements that virtually all voucher holders cannot meet, and that some agents steered testers to nearby apartments not owned by Dawn Homes.

Press 

“Westchester Residential Opportunities Alleges Housing Discrimination by Dawn Homes Management at Seven Apartment Complexes across New York State,” Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. 

“Complaint Alleges Housing Discrimination By Albany Group,” Albany Union Times

Article

ECBAWM Counsel Diane Houk Negotiates Settlement of Race Discrimination Case Filed Against White Suburban Community

On June 1, 2021, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement between ECBAWM client the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and the Town of Eastchester, New York resolving a five-year lawsuit. The agreement obligates the Town to amend its zoning code to remove residency preferences for affordable senior housing and not to use similar preferences in any future housing programs it may operate for 30 years. The Town, whose senior population is 95% white, will remove obligations it had originally imposed on a mixed-income senior rental building in Eastchester to apply preferences for current Town residents.

FHJC alleged in its lawsuit that the preferences discriminate against senior Black and Latinx nonresidents in a County where the income-eligible senior population is 66% white. FHJC also alleged that the Town’s use of a similar residency preference in its housing rental voucher program caused Black and Latinx applicants, who were more likely to be nonresidents, to wait an average of 10-15 years for a voucher. At the same time, white applicants waited only 8 months to a year to receive a rental voucher. FHJC found that even though 75% of the Town’s voucher waiting list was Black or Latinx, 73% of those who received vouchers were white.

After ECBAWM filed the lawsuit, the Town abruptly closed its rental voucher program in early 2019 rather than bring it into compliance with fair housing laws. ECBAWM attorneys successfully advocated to the State of New York and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to transfer the program to the State, eliminate all residency preferences, and reorder the Town’s waiting list based on the date of application and not residency.

Later that same year, when ECBAWM learned that the Town told the developer of a new senior rental building they were required to agree to a restrictive covenant mandating residency preferences, ECBAWM attorneys filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Town. The motion was resolved when the Town agreed the developer could begin initial rent-up without applying residency preferences.

After federal District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti rejected the Town’s efforts to dismiss the case by summary judgment in September 2020, the parties negotiated a resolution that includes $635,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

FHJC was represented by ECBAWM Counsel Diane L. Houk. For more information about the settlement and case see FHJC’s June 1, 2021 newsletter.

PRESS

“Eastchester pays $635,000 to settle federal housing bias case,” The Press Journal / lohud.com

“Discrimination suit prompts Eastchester to change Section 8 housing policy,” The Real Deal

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Reach Settlement in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Brought Against Developer, Architect, and Interior Designer

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Nick Bourland negotiated a settlement agreement for their client the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”) to resolve a housing discrimination lawsuit brought against a developer, architect, and interior designer for their alleged failure to design and construct four multifamily apartment buildings in New York City in compliance with accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Rabsky Group defendants will retrofit common areas and nearly 500 rental units at the Halo LIC development in Long Island City, Queens, and The Driggs development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition, the Rabsky Group will build at least 85 new ultra-accessible apartments in accordance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (“UFAS”) and in addition to any UFAS units the developer is already required to build under federal, state, or local law.  This unique provision guarantees enhanced accessibility at future Rabsky Group developments in New York City.

The settlement also includes $950,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to FHJC, including $300,000 to the Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund, which provides financial assistance to low and moderate income persons with disabilities seeking to modify their homes to increase physical accessibility.

Article

ECBAWM Clients File Race Discrimination Suit Against National Realty Firm Alleging Redlining

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance and nine of its member organizations against Redfin Corporation, based in Seattle, Washington. The complaint alleges that Redfin, a national online real estate firm, offers no service to buyers and sellers of homes in communities of color at a disproportionately higher rate than in white areas. The Complaint also alleges that Redfin offers full service, including discounted commissions and buyer refunds, where permitted by state law, to buyers and sellers of homes in white areas at a disproportionately higher rate than in non-white areas.

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Samuel Shapiro represent the plaintiffs, together with Jeffrey Taren of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless.

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Reach Settlement in Midwood, Brooklyn Housing Discrimination Case

On behalf of their clients Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and five African American testers, ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Scout Katovich negotiated a $300,000 settlement of a race and religion housing discrimination case. The federal lawsuit alleged that Defendants ZP Realty Capital, Zev Pollak, and others were discriminating when renting apartments at a building located in the predominantly white Midwood neighborhood. The plaintiffs alleged that none of them were shown apartments even though Defendants showed white testers vacant apartments. They also alleged that Mr. Pollak referred to the apartments as being in a “Jewish building.” The settlement requires the defendants to institute fair housing practices, including to publicly advertise when apartments are available to rent.

Article

ECBAWM Files Suit Alleging Major NYC Developer and Architect Designed and Constructed Housing That Is Inaccessible to People with Disabilities

On May 23, 2019, on behalf of fair-housing group the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), ECBAWM filed suit alleging that New York developer Gotham Organization Inc. and architect FX Collaborative Architects failed to design and construct rental housing in compliance with fair housing laws’ accessibility requirements. The complaint details that FHJC’s testing revealed numerous inaccessible features of two residential rental buildings: The Ashland in Fort Greene and The Nicole in Hell’s Kitchen. FHJC is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane Houk and Debra Greenberger.

Article

Federal Lawsuit Resolved Providing Housing Accessibility for Disabled Clients

ECBAWM attorneys and the Office of the United States Attorney General for the Southern District of New York negotiated a $525,000 settlement for disabled residents at a Mount Kisco senior condominium building. The settlement includes retrofits to common areas and individual units, as well as damages for ECBAWM’s five clients. Retrofits have already been completed to make accessible the buildings’ front door, lobby doors on each floor at the elevator, and interior entrance to the garage. Additional retrofits will be made to replace patio/balcony doors, correct slopes in the parking lot that are too steep, and modify other inaccessible features in the building. The defendants, JOBCO, Bedford Development LLC, Carnegie Construction Corp., Robert Pascucci, and Warshauer Mellusi Warshauer Architects P.C., agreed to resolve ECBAWM’s clients’ claims after the filing of a federal lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act. The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Jessica Clarke.

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Reach Historic Settlement to Reform Facebook’s Housing Advertising Platform

On March 18, 2019 ECBAWM attorneys announced a $2,450,000 settlement for clients the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”), the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”) to settle housing discrimination claims against Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”). This agreement will implement far-reaching changes across Facebook’s advertising platform for housing, employment, and credit (“HEC”) advertising. In March 2018, ECBAWM filed suit in federal district court alleging that Facebook had created pre-populated lists making it possible for housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) Facebook users from receiving rental, sales, or financing ads because of their race, national origin, sex, disability or family status.

The Facebook settlement sets a new benchmark for assuring that targeted advertising on social media complies with civil rights laws. Facebook will establish a separate advertising portal for creating HEC ads on Facebook and all Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram and Messenger. On this new portal, HEC advertisers will not be able to target Facebook users (1) based on gender, age, or multi-cultural affinity; (2) by zip code as all HEC ads must have a minimum geographic radius of 15 miles from a specific address or from the center of a city; and (3) based on categories that describe or appear to relate to personal characteristics or classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, including, race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation.

In addition, Facebook will create a new page that will allow consumers to view all housing ads placed on the Facebook platform irrespective of whether the consumer was part of the advertisers’ targeted audience. NFHA will work with Facebook to develop an in-house fair housing training program for Facebook leadership and staff. Facebook will provide ECBAWM’s clients with $500,000 of in-kind advertising to promote fair housing on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook will pay $1.9 million in damages and attorneys’ fees, including to provide future training for housing advertisers on how to use social media in a manner consistent with fair housing laws and to create programming to promote fair housing using social media.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

NFHA Press Release
“Facebook Halts Ad Targeting Cited in Bias Complaints,” New York Times
“Facebook agrees to overhaul targeted advertising system for job, housing and loan ads after discrimination complaints,” Washington Post
“Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads,” Wall Street Journal
“After Lawsuits, Facebook Announces Changes To Alleged Discriminatory Ad Targeting,” NPR

Article

ECBAWM Sues Suburban Landlord Alleging Race Discrimination

ECBAWM filed suit in federal district court alleging racially discriminatory rental practices at a 53-unit Eastchester apartment building in Westchester County, New York. The Fair Housing Justice Center sent similarly qualified White and African-American testers posing as potential renters to the building to inquire about the availability of apartments for rent and the application process. The 2018 tests revealed that the building superintendent treated African-Americans less favorably than Whites, including refusing to give them applications, showing them fewer apartments, and/or falsely claiming there was a waiting list or contracts pending on vacant apartments. The building is in a census tract that is less than 3% African-American but is adjacent to communities with a 20% or higher African-American population. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk.

Article

ECBAWM Sues Facebook for Discriminatory Housing Advertising

On March 27, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel (ECBAWM) filed suit in federal district court against Facebook, Inc. on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and three of its member organizations alleging that Facebook’s advertising platform enables landlords and real estate brokers to exclude families with children, women, and other protected classes of people from receiving housing ads. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook has created pre-populated lists that make it possible for its housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) home seekers from viewing or receiving rental or sales ads because of protected characteristics, including family status and sex.

Plaintiffs—NFHA, New York City-based Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Miami-based Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”)—created a non-existent realty firm and then prepared dozens of housing advertisements that they submitted to Facebook for review. Facebook provided Plaintiffs with specific lists of groups they could exclude from receiving the ads, including families with children, moms with children of certain ages, women or men, and other categories based on sex or family status. The investigations also revealed that Facebook provides housing advertisers with the ability to exclude certain “interest” categories from receiving ads that are disability-based (e.g., people who are interested in disabled veterans or disabled parking permits) or national origin-based (e.g., people who are interested in English as a second language).

The Complaint alleges that these practices violate the Fair Housing Act and New York City Human Rights Law and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief declaring Facebook’s conduct illegal and requiring Facebook to change its advertising platform and practices to comply with fair housing laws. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

Read the full complaint here.
For more information, read coverage from the New York Times, New York Daily News, Curbed, and the New York Law Journal.

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