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ECBAWM Sues Landlords and Brokers for Lying to and Ghosting Renters with Section 8 Vouchers

ECBAWM attorneys filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Fair Housing Justice Center against the management company, owners, and real estate agents for three rental apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens who denied renters with Section 8 housing vouchers the opportunity to rent available apartments. The complaint alleges that Defendants lied to renters with vouchers about available apartments and repeatedly ghosted them – ignoring their calls and texts after learning they intended to pay rent with a voucher. Defendants’ “discrimination by disappearance” violates the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws, which prohibit discrimination based on renters’ source of income.

The named Defendants are E L J Management Company, Jacbay Inc., Astoria 35 Inc., Harari Realty Corp., Contact Realty Corp., and Christian Quiceno. Defendant E L J is the management company for all three buildings. It manages approximately a dozen apartment buildings with over 1,500 combined units in New York City.

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Max Selver represent the Fair Housing Justice Center. A link to the filed Complaint can be found here.

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ECBAWM Attorneys Settle Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against National Real Estate Firm for $4 Million

In an agreement negotiated by ECBAWM attorneys, Redfin Corporation has committed to changing its national minimum home price service and referral policies for five years and pay $4 million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by the National Fair Housing Alliance and nine of its member organizations. Redfin has also agreed to implement an outreach and recruiting plan to increase racial diversity in its workforce, advertise its service to reach non-White consumers, and require agents and local partner realty firms to attend fair housing training.

The lawsuit alleged that Redfin discriminated based on race and national origin. An investigation conducted by the plaintiff organizations showed that Redfin offered no service to buyers and sellers of homes in communities of color at a disproportionately higher rate than in white areas based on the company’s minimum home price policy. As one of the settlement’s terms, Redfin will expand its service for several years in ten metropolitan areas for buyers of homes priced below median home prices in order to provide service to more homes located in communities of color.

ECBAWM Attorneys Diane L. Houk and Sam Shapiro represented Plaintiffs, together with Jeffrey Taren of MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless.

Press
“Redfin Settles Suit by Fair-Housing Groups Over ‘Minimum Price Policy’,” Bloomberg News

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

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Diane L. Houk Named Partner

ECBAWM is proud to announce that Diane L. Houk has been elected a firm partner, effective immediately.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, Houk began her career in the 1980’s representing plaintiffs in housing and employment discrimination cases in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She served as General Counsel to a local fair housing organization during this time.

In 1991, Houk joined the United States Department of Justice in the Housing Section of the Civil Rights Division, where she would ultimately serve for 13 years innovating and litigating to combat housing segregation in communities from coast to coast. In 2000, Diane was named Special Litigation Counsel and, in that role, oversaw the Section’s land use and zoning work in the areas of race, national origin and religious discrimination.

By 2004, Houk was recognized as a national leader in the fair housing movement. She moved to New York City to found the Fair Housing Justice Center which has since grown to become a major force against housing discrimination in the New York City metro.

In 2009, Houk returned to private practice at ECBAWM. She has been central to the firm’s practice, profile, and culture. She has litigated – and won – dozens of landmark cases, including against Facebook, Redfin, and the Town of Eastchester, and continues to pursue cases for individual plaintiffs who face unlawful barriers to housing because of their race, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, and source of income.

“There are thousands of New Yorkers who have Diane Houk to thank for their very homes,” said ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. “And she has done all this by dint of sheer intellectual firepower, a relentless work ethic, toughness on a heroic scale, endless patience and persistence, and a stubborn and righteous insistence that landlords and their counsel obey the law.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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