Not So Sunnyside in Queens, NY

To The Editor:

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), along with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA), announced the filing of a lawsuit today in federal district court against a New York landlord and the superintendent at a large building with over 100 rental apartments located in Sunnyside, Queens for racial discrimination against three African Americans who inquired about rental apartments in the defendants’ building.

The lawsuit alleges that the superintendent of the building, located at 41-41 46th Street and owned by NASA Real Estate Corporation, engaged in racial discrimination by lying to the African Americans, claiming that no apartments were available for rent, and refusing to show them apartments in the building. In contrast, the superintendent showed the same, vacant one-bedroom apartment to white individuals, some of whom arrived less than an hour after the African Americans to inquire about available apartments. The superintendent told the white individuals, “I chose the people. . . . You look like nice people, that’s why I show you.” He described the building as one made up of “choice people. Not everybody.”

Discrimination in the area is likely systemic. According to the 2010 Census, fewer than 2% of all rental housing units in this area of Sunnyside, Queens are occupied by African-American households. In contrast, African-American renters comprise 18% of all renter households in Queens and 27% of all renter households in New York City.

Over the past few years, FHJC systemic testing investigations have uncovered discriminatory practices by housing providers in New York City and surrounding suburban areas. “Testing is the only investigative tool capable of comparing and documenting how similarly qualified renters of different races are being treated in the housing market,” according to FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg. “Individual renters are often unaware that discrimination is occurring. If housing discrimination is not detected, it is not reported. Yet, these odious practices restrict housing choice and perpetuate residential segregation.”

The FHJC’s testing has uncovered or documented race discrimination in New York City or the surrounding suburbs that led to over $2 million in damages and extensive injunctive relief affecting thousands of housing units. For example, earlier this year, the FHJC settled a case for $225,000 against landlords who allegedly engaged in racial discrimination in apartment buildings located in Brooklyn neighborhoods with a similar racial composition. “Regrettably, race discrimination in housing remains one of the rawest forms of racism in this City and the nation. We are dedicated to eradicating it,” said Elizabeth Saylor, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

This lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. The FHJC and three testers are represented by Elizabeth Saylor, Diane Houk, and Vasudha Talla of ECBA.

FHJC is a New York City-based non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, promoting open and inclusive communities, and strengthening fair housing enforcement. Individuals who encounter illegal housing discrimination are encouraged to call the FHJC for assistance at 212-400-8201.

Ravana Tsang

Legal Assistant

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP

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