Opening Acts: January 9, 2020

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

January 9, 2020


FHJC Investigation Finds Astoria Apartment Building Unwelcoming to African American Renters

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and two African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (EDNY) alleging that 34-08 30th Street LLC, property owners Svetozar and Klara Tatkovic, and building superintendent Valentino Pellumbi are discriminating against African American prospective renters at a 40-unit apartment building in Astoria, Queens.

An undercover testing investigation by the FHJC in 2019 revealed widely disparate treatment of prospective tenants based solely on their race. During recorded conversations, Defendant Pellumbi untruthfully told African American testers that no apartments were available and prefaced his misrepresentations with the phrase “To be honest…”

When an African American tester inquired about apartments in July 2019, Pellumbi stated he had nothing available and said, “To be honest with you, maybe in September.” When a second African American tester inquired about apartments in August, Pellumbi stated “To be honest, I don’t have it right now.” Unprompted, Pellumbi also told the second African American tester that apartments in the building were too expensive for him and his wife, despite never asking about the tester’s income. Pellumbi ultimately quoted a rent to the Black tester that was $100 more than quoted to white testers. Several white testers who visited the same building before and after the two African American testers were told about an available apartment, provided an opportunity to contact a broker and arrange to view the apartment, and encouraged to rent in the building.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “The recent release of “Long Island Divided” by Newsday provided compelling evidence that African American homebuyers still face a significant amount of discrimination in the home sales market on Long Island. But African American renters also face persistent and pervasive racial discrimination in the regional rental market. This lawsuit in Queens illustrates the pernicious, deceptive, and subtle nature of racial bias, and details practices that continue to turn people away based on race.” Freiberg added, “FHJC’s proactive testing investigations make it possible to effectively document, challenge, and eliminate these discriminatory barriers.”

The plaintiffs are seeking damages and injunctive relief that would bring the defendants into compliance with fair housing laws and prevent discrimination in the future. The plaintiffs are represented by Mariann Meier Wang and Alexander Goldenberg of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (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.