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.
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.
On February 21, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWM) filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Alfred Spooner and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) alleging disability and source of income discrimination against Goldfarb Properties—a managing agent of over 6,000 apartments throughout New York City and its surrounding suburbs.
The lawsuit challenges Goldfarb’s practice of imposing a minimum annual income requirement on low-income, disabled, housing applicants like Mr. Spooner who use state-funded vouchers to pay the majority of their rent. After Mr. Spooner’s rental application was rejected, the FHJC sent testers posing as potential renters with rental subsidies and vouchers to the defendant’s properties to inquire about the availability of apartments. The tests revealed that Goldfarb categorically turned away these applicants even though they had the means to pay the full rent because they did not make forty-three times the rent in income—a practical impossibility for any person eligible for a disability-and-income-based voucher. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and David Berman.
A landmark settlement agreement was filed with the Court today resolving a lawsuit brought by ECBAWM’s client the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, a diverse group of more than 40 nonprofits, residents, and fair housing advocates. The Coalition filed suit eight years ago, alleging that the City’s rezoning and development plans for the Broadway Triangle area of Brooklyn were discriminatory and perpetuated segregation.
The settlement agreement provides for the development of over 375 permanently affordable apartments that will be developed in a way designed to further fair housing without discrimination. The agreement also provides that the City will pay between $2.4 and $4.8 million to fund fair housing workshops, counseling, and educational materials, as well as legal representation for people with housing discrimination complaints in the Broadway Triangle neighborhood, which lies at the intersection of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“After years of effort, today’s settlement means the city will properly respond to the real needs of our diverse communities in North Brooklyn,” said Juan Ramos of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition. “There is a long history of housing discrimination in this area, and affordable housing in the Broadway Triangle is more important than ever given the rapid gentrification and displacement of families who have lived here for generations.”
“The affordable housing development plan, combined with fair housing services in this settlement agreement, provides a strong template for other neighborhoods across the country to use when challenging racially discriminatory housing redevelopment plans,” said ECBAWM’s Diane L. Houk.
The Coalition is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman, together with the New York Civil Liberties Union and Brooklyn Legal Services Corp.
“City to Settle Discrimination Claim in Brooklyn Housing Plan,” New York Times
“City, Housing Advocates Reach Deal on Controversial Brooklyn Project,” New York Law Journal
On behalf of their clients the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African American testers, ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman negotiated the largest settlement that FHJC has ever obtained in the private rental market for a race, color, and source of income discrimination case. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleged that Defendants Kosova Properties, Inc., Mulliner & Properties, Inc., Burr Properties LLC, Dardania Properties LLC, Nezaj Realty LLC, and Hamdi Nezaj were discriminating on the basis of race, color, and source of income. Kosova Properties manages nineteen buildings with more than 350 rental units in the Bronx and Manhattan.
The case settled for $620,000 plus extensive injunctive relief for FHJC, three African American testers, and one home-seeker represented by Mobilization for Justice.
Fair Housing Justice Center press release
ECBAWM filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO) against the Town of Bedford and its affordable housing agency, Blue Mountain Development.
Like other Westchester County towns, Bedford’s population is overwhelmingly white. The complaint alleges that the Town awards its affordable “middle income” housing using “preferences” in its zoning code. These preferences prioritize people who already live or work in Bedford and who are far more likely to be white. These preferences violate the Fair Housing Act because they discriminate against African Americans who would otherwise be eligible for the Town’s affordable housing and make it more likely the housing will be given to white people.
The plaintiffs FHJC and WRO are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman.
A White Plains housing cooperative and rental management company have paid $125,000 to settle a housing discrimination case initiated by M. Forster, a 34-year old disabled man living in Westchester County, New York. Mr. Forster sought to purchase an apartment in a building owned by the coop and managed by the rental company using his special needs trust but was told that ownership by trust was not permitted. The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, challenged the coop’s and management company’s refusal to grant Mr. Forster a reasonable accommodation. The settlement was covered by Westfair Online here, and a press release issued by the government can be found here.
ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman represented Mr. Forster and his special needs trust.
The New York Attorney General announced a settlement agreement with the German American Settlement League (“GASL”), to continue reforms achieved in a previous settlement obtained by ECBAWM. The GASL, a membership-based nonprofit, was alleged to have excluded non-whites from purchasing homes in its Long Island community since the late 1930s. The new AG settlement includes changes to GASL’s membership policies, the replacement of its President and Treasurer, and regular reporting to the AG to demonstrate compliance.
Plaintiffs in the ECBAWM matter were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and O. Andrew F. Wilson.
On March 1, 2017, the United States filed a housing discrimination suit on behalf of several ECBAWM clients against Bedford Development LLC, Carnegie Construction Corp., Jobco Inc., Robert Pascucci, and Warshauer Mellusi Warshauer Architects, P.C. The complaint alleges that these defendants failed to design and construct Sutton Manor condominium in Mount Kisco, New York, in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. ECBAWM represents several disabled residents who purchased units at Sutton Manor based on the false promise of an accessible home to live in post-retirement. This suit originates from complaints ECBAWM filed on behalf of these residents with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They are represented by Diane L. Houk and Jessica Clarke of ECBAWM.
To read more about the complaint, click here.
On August 12, 2016, ECBAWM and MFY Legal Services filed a federal class-action challenging the legality of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that sells government-insured FHA home mortgages to private equity funds, leaving these borrowers without insurance-program benefits they are entitled to and putting them at heightened risk of foreclosure. The suit further alleges that HUD’s program violates the Fair Housing Act because HUD is disproportionately selling FHA loans issued to African-American borrowers in New York City for homes in predominantly African-American neighborhoods like St. Albans, Queens.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, also challenges the actions of Lone Star Funds, the largest purchaser of mortgages sold through the HUD program. The lawsuit alleges that once Lone Star purchases the mortgages from HUD, it preys on the homeowners: the company makes false and misleading statements to the homeowners, refuses to offer homeowners loan modifications it is legally obligated to provide, and instead offers homeowners exploitative loan modifications that spell almost certain foreclosure for these borrowers down the line. The complaint also alleges that Lone Star violates the Fair Housing Act because its policies disproportionately impact African-American borrowers and predominantly African-American communities in New York City.
The suit was covered by the New York Times on Monday, August 15, 2016. The putative class is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff and Diane L. Houk, along with co-counsel MFY Legal Services.