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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Housing Discrimination Based on Race and Disabilities Still Persists

Several recent housing discrimination cases, one which settled in March 2013 and another decided December 2012, demonstrate that discrimination in housing still exists despite implementation of fair housing laws.

In additional to federal laws which prohibit discrimination in housing, The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-4 et. seq. makes it illegal to discriminate against persons seeking to rent or purchase housing because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, familial status, disability, nationality, sex, gender identity or expression or source of lawful income used for rental or mortgage payments and this is recognized as and declared to be a civil right. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination allows for monetary damages to plaintiffs who prove they were illegally denied housing.

When the discrimination is based on race or other prohibited considerations, the Realtors or sellers will typically not show a house, condominium or apartment to the prospective buyers or renters by claiming the house, condominium or apartment already had a contract for sale on it, has been sold, or is already rented, when in fact, it does not.

This happened to New Jersey’s own Newark Mayor Cory Booker and his family when he was a child and his family was trying to purchase a house in Bergen County NJ. Mayor Cory Booker has spoken publicly of discrimination in housing based on race that his family endured.

During his Stanford University 2012 Commencement address, Mayor Booker told the story of how when his parents got transferred in their employment to the NY metropolitan area, they soon learned many of the nicest towns with the best schools would not show the homes to black families.

He relayed how every time his parents became interested in a house, they were told it was already sold and the Fair Housing Council became involved. Every time his parents went to look at a house and was told it was sold, the Fair Housing Council sent in “testers’ a white couple, called "the Browns" to see if it was true and his parents were eventually able to purchase the house they wanted over the realtor's objections.

Complaints based on housing discrimination because of race or disability or AIDS, or legal source of income, such as a housing subsidy from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), are still being filed, despite progress being made as to enforcing fair housing laws.

In a landmark federal decision issued Dec. 3, 2012, and in Judgment filed 12/13/2012, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti ruled in Short v. Manhattan Apartments, Inc. that Manhattan Apartments, Inc. and Abba Realty Associates, Inc., two of New York City’s biggest Realtors, had an established entranced business practice of housing discrimination on the basis of persons being recipients of a housing subsidy from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration.

In Short v. Manhattan Apartments, Inc., the court held a four day bench trial in October 15 through October 18,2012. It was proved that the brokers actively discriminated against an individual living with AIDS, Keith Short, and other individuals living with AIDS on the basis of their receiving a housing subsidy from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) which was their lawful source of income. Such discrimination is illegal based on federal and state laws.

As stated in the Press Release issued by the Housing Works and in the final filed Judgment, in addition to monetary compensatory damages, the court ordered injunctive relief and that three defendants had to take immediate actions and change their business practices to ensure the discrimination would not happen again, including implementing
Fair Housing training.

The Court in the Judgment ordered as to the general injunction:


Defendants are hereby enjoined from discriminating against any person on the basis of lawful source of income.

1. Denying or withholding rental apartments, or otherwise making rental apartments unavailable on the basis of lawful source of income, including by refusing to provide rental brokerage services to individuals on the basis of lawful income;

2. Representing to any person that an apartment is not available for inspection or rental because of lawful source of income when such apartment is in fact so available, including maintaining separate lists, inventories, databases or other separate collections of information on basis of lawful sources of income regarding the availability of housing.

3. Discriminating in the terms or conditions of rental because of lawful source of income, including imposing more onerous conditions on persons who have a housing subsidy in any stage of the process of providing rental brokerage services (including but not limited to, before informing clients of available apartments, before showing such apartments, etc.);

4. Making any record or inquiry in connection with the prospective rental of housing that expresses, directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification or discrimination as to lawful source of income;

5. Making, printing, or publishing any statement with respect to the rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination on the basis of lawful source of income.”

The court also ordered in the Judgment that “Defendants shall each adopt a written nondiscrimination policy that prohibits discrimination in housing... and Defendant shall post its nondiscrimination policy on any website...”

The Defendants were also ordered to establish “FAIR HOUSING TRAINING within their businesses” including that “Defendant shall contract with a third party to provide the three (3) hour fair housing training programs to be conducted by a third-party, not the Defendants, acceptable to the Plaintiffs.” The persons required to attend included the owners of the Defendant corporations, Defendants’ employees whose job duties relate to rental of apartments, including obtaining and disseminating information about rental listings, and Defendants’ associate brokers and sales persons.

According to the Fair Housing Justice Center, another recent case settled in March 2013. 

According to a Press Release issued by the FHJC, they initially conducted an investigation in response to a complaint from a formerly homeless man with disabilities. Their investigation found that agents from numerous real estate companies were illegality discriminating based on disability and source of income. In April 2010, the man and the FHJC filed a lawsuit against ten real estate companies and their agents alleging disability and source of income discrimination in violation of fair housing laws.

The FHJC Press Release states:
“On March 15, 2013, federal Judge Deborah Batts signed a settlement agreement resolving FHJC’s housing discrimination lawsuit against Bond NYC Properties Brokerage (Bond), a realty company with over 300 agents. The settlement provides extensive injunctive relief and a total monetary recovery of $212,500. In the settlement, Bond agrees to comply with fair housing laws; adopt an anti-discrimination policy; provide fair housing training to all Bond employees and agents; include the Equal Housing Opportunity logo in all advertising; update rental applications to capture non-employment sources of income, including housing subsidies, from prospective applicants; and maintain and make certain records available for inspection by the FHJC for a period of three years........... As a result of this case, Mr. Cales received monetary damages and a rent-stabilized apartment. The FHJC obtained broad equitable relief from several large real estate companies... The case resulted in a total monetary recovery in excess of $550,000.”

The New York Times reported a housing discrimination complaint based on race was recently filed in NY. 

The alleged facts are similar to those that Mayor Cory Booker family experienced many years ago in Bergen County NJ. According to The New York Times, when an African American woman went to an apartment building to inquire about renting a one-bedroom apartment, the superintendent told her that no apartments were available and that he did not know when one possibly could become available.

According to allegations in the complaint, just one hour later, another woman who was white went to the same apartment building and asked if there were any one-bedroom apartments available at this time, and the superintendent not only showed her a vacant apartment, but additionally told her he’d take $100 off the rent because she was “nice people,” and gave her a rental application. According to the allegations, whether or not the prospective renters were told an apartment was available based on the race of the prospective renter was part of a larger a pattern of housing discrimination at the 107 unit apartment.

According to The Record, February 7, 2013, in Bergen County NJ, an interracial couple alleged in a complaint filed with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, that they were rejected as tenants because they were an interracial couple, according to a press release by the Division of Civil Rights.

The couple viewed a one-bedroom apartment being advertised and put down a deposit on the apartment. The landlords gave them their deposit back several days later and advised them that the apartment had been rented, according to state officials. A subsequent investigation by the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey determined the apartment had been offered to a white male "tester" two days after the interracial couple had been were told it was rented.
According to The Record, state officials said that under a settlement, the Defendants paid $6,000 to the couple, and $1,500 to the Fair Housing Council.

Housing discrimination in Bergen County and other counties still exists even decades after Cory Booker’s family had been denied purchasing a house in Bergen County until white “testers” called the Browns, were offered the same house, proving it had not already been sold.

Contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law, today for a free consultation.

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