Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
Posted by Sunny Bjerk , April 24, 2013
April is Fair Housing month, and what better way to celebrate than with a civil rights lawsuit challenging housing discrimination?
Today, Housing Works and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP have announced a lawsuit against the LeFrak Organization and its subsidiary rental management company, Estate NY Real Estate Services LLC, for discriminating against people on the basis of disability and source of income. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that LeFrak treats applicants with rental assistance, including persons with a HASA housing subsidy, differently and less favorably than applicants with income from employment, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the New York City Human Rights Law. Currently, LeFrak and its related entities control over 200 apartment buildings in New York and New Jersey.
The complaint alleges that housing applicants who are employed are allowed to go directly to a convenient, on-site leasing office at LeFrak City, meet with a leasing agent, obtain floor plans, and view available apartments prior to having any income verified or completing a rental application. In sharp contrast, applicants with any type of rental assistance, including persons with a HASA rental subsidy, are required to go to a separate, off-site leasing office, speak with employees behind a glass window, complete a rental application, submit to a credit and criminal background check, and provide other documentation just to be placed on a waiting list and before any information will be provided about available apartments for rent.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that LeFrak’s policy requiring written verification of the maximum rent amount that a government program will pay discriminates against disabled persons living with AIDS who are using a HASA housing subsidy.
Housing Works contacted the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) to report that its client had been denied an apartment at LeFrak City, home to roughly 15,000 people in Queens, because she intended to pay her rent with a subsidy from HASA. In response, the FHJC deployed undercover “testers” to investigate the complaint. The investigation yielded evidence of systemic discrimination based on source of income and disability at LeFrak City and all other rental buildings operated by the defendants in New York City.
Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney at Housing Works, stated, “Discrimination in housing is not merely odious, and offensive, but it is life-threatening for thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS. With affordable housing increasingly hard to come by in this city, it is critical that we ensure that apartments be made available to all, regardless of disability or source of income.”
In a press release issued today, Fred Freiberg, FHJC Executive Director, added, “Operating a dual and discriminatory rental application process that imposes additional hurdles to rent apartments for people with rental subsidies is source of income discrimination. Enforcing a requirement that effectively makes housing unavailable to anyone living with HIV/AIDS who have a HASA rental subsidy is discrimination based on disability.” Freiberg added, “For tens of thousands of people in New York City who are living with symptomatic HIV or AIDS and using a HASA rental subsidy, having a decent, stable, and sanitary place to call home is critical to health and well-being. The action we take today is intended to dismantle a discriminatory system, repair the harm caused by these practices, and ensure that thousands of rental housing opportunities are available on an equal basis to all renters with public subsidies and to New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.”
Stay tuned for updates as the lawsuit moves forward.
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