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First Come, First Served (Unless You Have a Voucher)

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

August 28, 2022

SOURCE OF INCOME DISCRIMINATION ALLEGED IN NEW FHJC LAWSUIT

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and co-plaintiff Naomi Henderson filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court alleging source of income discrimination at the Brooklyn properties Beach Haven Apartments, located at 9-49 Murdock Court and 2662 West 2nd Street, and Theda Gardens, located at 1402 West 4th Street.

The named defendants are Beach Haven owners Beach Haven Apartments Associates LLC, Rubin Schron, and Herb Dumain, Theda Gardens owner 1402 Owners Corp., property managers Apartment Management Associates LLC d/b/a Revona Properties, Revona employee Jimit Shah, real estate company ERN Group Inc. d/b/a Ern Flats, and Simi Fishof, a real estate agent whose license allegedly expired in 2020 and had not been renewed at the time of the events alleged in the complaint.

Ms. Henderson is a Queens resident living in a homeless shelter who was provided a CityFHEPS voucher in 2021 that would cover 100% of her rent payments up to $1,945 per month. In March of 2022 she began working with a real estate agent to identify and secure an apartment in Brooklyn that was within the rent range allowed by her voucher.

According to the complaint, this agent identified multiple apartments that fell within the appropriate rent range. He made inquiries about availability, communicating separately with defendants Jimit Shah and Simi Fishof. But when Mr. Shah and Ms. Fishof were informed about his client’s voucher, they stopped responding to his messages. He was completely ghosted by both agents, despite stating in one email “Please note that my client is both legally eligible to not only rent this apartment, but also to view it as well before applying, should she wish to do so.”

After observing the discriminatory treatment of his client, the complaint continues, Ms. Henderson’s agent reached out to the FHJC, who organized a series of several separate tests to determine whether Defendants were systemically discriminating against potential tenants on the basis of their source of income.

Over the course of a number of days in April 2022, FHJC testers posing as renters contacted the agents to inquire about availability of various advertised apartments. According to the complaint, testers who stated that they met minimum income requirements from employment sources received warm responses, tours of the apartments, and even information about available apartments in other buildings. In stark contrast, the testers who stated that they would be using government vouchers to cover the rent were completely ghosted, as Ms. Henderson had been.

The complaint alleges that the timing of the tests – in which the agents responded positively to testers with income from employment both before and after entirely ghosting testers with vouchers, regarding the same apartment units – reveals that the behavior cannot be explained by changes in unit availability. Nor was the discrimination that Ms. Henderson experienced an isolated incident. Rather, it was part of a systemic scheme to prevent housing voucher participants from accessing housing in the defendants’ buildings.

“Source of income discrimination has been illegal in New York City for nearly fifteen years,” stated FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman. “Vigorously addressing it is a crucial element in the fight to reduce the area’s rampant housing segregation.”

Attorney Mariann Wang agreed. “More agents and building owners need to realize that housing discrimination – including source-of-income discrimination – will not be tolerated in New York City. Defendants’ ‘ghosting’ of voucher participants has the same harmful effects as posting a policy that housing vouchers will not be accepted; ultimately thwarting the goals of voucher programs that seek to provide safe and stable housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.” Ms. Wang and Heather Gregorio with the law firm Cuti Hecker Wang LLP represent the FHJC in this lawsuit.

Attorney Deborah H. Karpatkin who represents Ms. Henderson, added: “As of today, because of defendants’ discriminatory and unlawful acts, Ms. Henderson is still living in a shelter and denied the dignity of decent, safe and secure permanent housing. We are looking forward to a positive outcome in this case, and justice for Ms. Henderson and for others like her.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the New York City and New York State Human Rights Laws and seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief to stop the source of income discrimination. The full complaint can be read HERE.

The mission of the 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.