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Lies and Ghosting: A Housing Discrimination Strategy

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

May 9, 2022


The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) today filed a source of income discrimination lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the owners, management company, realty firms, and a real estate salesperson for three rental apartment buildings with over 200 units in Brooklyn and Queens. The named defendants are ELJ Management Company, JacBay Inc., Astoria 35 Inc., Harari Realty Corp., Contact Realty Corp., and Christian Quiceno.

The complaint alleges that an FHJC investigation in 2017 of a rental building in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn owned by JacBay revealed an openly stated policy of refusing to rent to tenants with Section 8 vouchers. Despite source of income discrimination being illegal in New York City at the time, an undercover FHJC tester was simply told “They don’t take it.”

In 2019, New York State prohibited source of income discrimination statewide. While the companies’ tactics have evolved in response to the State law, a 2021 FHJC investigation found that their underlying unlawful discriminatory policy continues.

In May and June of 2021, the FHJC conducted investigations of the previously-investigated Bay Ridge property, and of two adjoining apartment buildings in Astoria, Queens owned by Astoria 35 and managed by ELJ Management Company. All three buildings had apartments with rents below the 2021 payment standards for Section 8 voucher programs in New York City. At each test, one tester posed as a renter with income solely from employment, and another tester posed as a renter with a voucher.

According to the complaint, the realty firms and their agents made apartments available to testers with income solely from employment, returning their calls and texts, and encouraging them to schedule appointments to view the apartments. At the same time, they ignored repeated calls and texts about the same apartments from prospective tenants with vouchers, and, in one instance, lied to a prospective tenant with a voucher about an apartment’s availability. They consistently “ghosted” the testers with vouchers, claiming they had to check whether the “manager” or “landlord” would accept the voucher, then never responding with an answer despite multiple follow-up inquiries from the voucher-holding testers. The agents who spoke with the testers never stated out loud the owners’ policy of refusing to rent to tenants with vouchers, but their repeated scheme to deny rental opportunities to renters with vouchers made that policy clear.

“The actions of these defendants fit a pattern,” stated FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman. “Blatant, in-your-face discriminatory statements get replaced by subtle, pervasive strategies in response to fair housing laws. Without testing by fair housing organizations, this type of discrimination goes largely undetected, and continues to harm families and individuals in significant respects.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of New York State and New York City 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 viewed here.

“Defendants’ ghosting of renters with Section 8 housing vouchers is part of a growing trend of landlords and brokers trying to evade the law without stating their discriminatory policy out loud. Defendants’ discrimination by disappearance is just as insidious and unlawful as if they had announced a policy against rental subsidies directly to renters’ faces,” stated attorney Max Selver. Mr. Selver and attorney Diane L. Houk, both with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, are representing the FHJC. 

FHJC’s investigation in this case was supported with funding from Enterprise Community Partners (ECP) under the Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York (EBHNY) Initiative.

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.