Opening Acts: September 25, 2017

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

September 25, 2017

Landlord Settles Rental Discrimination Case

Race, Color, and Source of Income Discrimination Case Results in Injunctive Relief and Monetary Recovery of $620,000

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced that a settlement was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) to resolve a fair housing lawsuit brought by the FHJC, three African American testers, and a woman who had been searching for housing with a rental subsidy. The lawsuit, filed in May 2016, alleged that 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. While the testing investigation was in progress during 2015, the FHJC was also attempting to assist Sandra, an African American woman with a NYC Living in Communities (LINC) rental subsidy, to locate suitable housing within her rent range. In addition to misrepresenting the availability of apartments for rent to FHJC testers, Mr. Nezaj also told Sandra that he would not accept her LINC subsidy.

While the defendants denied the allegations, the 4-year settlement agreement contains extensive injunctive relief to ensure future compliance with fair housing laws. Some of the key provisions include:

  • General injunction not to discriminate against persons on the basis of race, color, or source of income when renting apartments;
  • Adoption of a fair housing policy to be distributed to all personnel who are involved in showing and renting apartments;
  • Agreement to publicly advertise apartments available for rent;
  • Agreement to hire a third-party employee who will handle rental inquiries at all of the larger rental buildings operated by the defendant for the first two years of the agreement;
  • Provision of fair housing training for agents and employees directly involved in renting apartments;
  • Notification of non-profit organizations that provide housing services that the defendants will consider tenants with rental subsidies;
  • Agreement to notify tenants living in the one building Kosova Properties operates in a predominantly African American neighborhood in the Bronx that they may, if they choose, add their names to a waiting list to receive priority consideration for any apartments that come available at Defendants’ other rent-stabilized rental buildings in predominately white or integrated neighborhoods; and
  • Maintain rental records that will be made available to FHJC to document defendants’ efforts to comply with the settlement.

In addition, the settlement provides a total monetary recovery for all plaintiffs of $620,000. This is the largest settlement the FHJC has obtained in the private rental market for a race, color, and source of income discrimination case.

The practices of this landlord were documented by Divided Films in the episode “A House Divided,” which was part of the 2016 EPIX docu-series America Divided. In that episode, legendary television writer/producer Norman Lear and FHJC tester, the late LB Williams, conducted a test at one of defendants’ buildings. The video-recorded test revealed that African American LB Williams was told no apartments were available, while white Norman Lear was told about multiple available apartments and shown an apartment.  

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “The expansive remedy included in this settlement will help ensure compliance with fair housing laws. But the settlement also conveys a clear message to other landlords in the New York City region that a failure to comply with fair housing laws can have costly consequences.” Freiberg added, “The FHJC will continue to conduct testing investigations. When these investigations disclose that housing providers, real estate companies, lenders or others are discriminating based on race, color, source of income or other protected characteristics, enforcement action will be taken. Fair housing is not an option, it’s the law.”

“Once again, the FHJC has been instrumental in opening up housing to people for whom it has not been previously available,” said Plaintiff Sandra. “I take comfort in knowing that they will continue to enforce the law so that, in the future, other people can benefit as I have from their important work.”

Plaintiff Sandra was represented by Kevin M. Cremin and Shanila Ali of Mobilization for Justice (formerly MFY Legal Services). Plaintiff FHJC and three African American testers were represented by Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.