On August 12, 2016, ECBA and MFY Legal Services filed a federal class action challenging the legality of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that sells government-insured FHA home mortgages to private equity funds, leaving these borrowers without insurance-program benefits they are entitled to and putting them at heightened risk of foreclosure. The suit further alleges that HUD’s program violates the Fair Housing Act because HUD is disproportionately selling FHA loans issued to African-American borrowers in New York City for homes in predominantly African American neighborhoods like St. Albans, Queens.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, also challenges the actions of Lone Star Funds, the largest purchaser of mortgages sold through the HUD program. The lawsuit alleges that once Lone Star purchases the mortgages from HUD, it preys on the homeowners: the company makes false and misleading statements to the homeowners, refuses to offer homeowners loan modifications it is legally obligated to provide, and instead offers homeowners exploitative loan modifications that spell almost certain foreclosure for these borrowers down the line. The complaint also alleges that Lone Star violates the Fair Housing Act because its policies disproportionately impact African-American borrowers and predominantly African-American communities in New York City.
The suit was covered by the New York Times on Monday, August 15, 2016. The putative class is represented by ECBA attorneys, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff and Diane L. Houk, along with co-counsel MFY Legal Services. A copy of the complaint is accessible here.
On June 30, 2016, the Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s approval of a class action settlement concerning the fees Visa and Mastercard charge merchants for accepting credit cards. ECBA represents the leading merchant trade groups that objected to the settlement, The National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association. ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Debra L. Greenberger wrote one of the two primary objecting merchant appeals briefs; Mr. Celli and ECBA attorney Diane Houk handled the case in the District Court.
A lawsuit filed by ECBA against the German American Settlement League (“GASL”) alleging racial discrimination settled this month for $175,000 and broad injunctive relief. The complaint alleged that GASL, a membership-based nonprofit, had excluded non-whites from purchasing homes in its Long Island community since the late 1930s. GASL has agreed to remove its racially restrictive membership rules and to permit advertising, open houses, and other forms of public marketing of homes for sale. Among other things, GASL Board members have agreed to attend fair housing training and to permit Long Island Housing Services to monitor its applications and organizational records for several years.
Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and O. Andrew F. Wilson.
A federal court approved a $230,000 settlement of a housing discrimination case brought by ECBA on behalf of two non-profits and seven individuals. The plaintiffs alleged that Manhattan-based management company Empire Management America Corp., the owner, and manager of a Suffolk County apartment complex racially discriminated against African Americans. In 2014, African American and white testers went to the complex and inquired about renting apartments. The complaint alleged that the African American testers were lied to about the number of available apartments and when apartments would become available to rent in the future. The African American testers, Fair Housing Justice Center, and ERASE Racism were plaintiffs in the case. The settlement requires the defendants to provide housing discrimination training for its employees, adopt a non-discrimination policy, publicly advertise apartments for rent, and permit inspection of certain records for three years. The plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Ted Oxholm.
Emery Celli has filed a federal lawsuit that challenges the racially discriminatory housing policies of the German-American Settlement League (“GASL”). The GASL owns Siegfried Park in Yaphank, Long Island, where, in the late 1930s, German Americans traveled to rally together in support of Nazism. Since its incorporation in 1937, the GASL has excluded non-whites from its membership, recreational programs, and summer homes in favor of new residents with German ancestry. As stated in its Constitution, one of the purposes of the GASL is to “introduce, cultivate, and propagate in every direction true Germanic culture and to cultivate the German language, customs and ideals.” The GASL requires its members “primarily” to be “of German extraction.” New members must be sponsored by a current member and accepted by a majority vote of the Board and membership. GASL membership may be extended under limited circumstances to “other national elements” only if they are sponsored by current members. The lawsuit challenges these restrictions and seeks, among other things, to amend the by GASL bylaws to allow for equal access to housing.
Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane Houk and Andrew Wilson.
Read the New York Times’ coverage of the lawsuit and the GASL here; read the full complaint here.
A federal court has approved a settlement in a case brought by ECBA challenging an “age-targeted” development project on Kensington Road in the Village of Bronxville. ECBA filed suit on behalf of Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. (“WRO”), against Bronxville and its chosen developer, Gateway Kensington LLC, alleging that the age-targeted project discriminated against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law.
After the lawsuit was filed, Bronxville amended the Village Code to eliminate the provision for age-targeted development. In the settlement approved by the court, the Village agreed to pay $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and to issue a new permit for the Kensington Road project that is not age-targeted.
The defendants also agreed to attend a training on fair housing laws. In addition, the Village will host a public workshop and distribute a brochure on fair housing laws. The Mayor of Bronxville will also issue a statement explaining that the project is not age-targeted and that families with children are welcome in Bronxville. The defendants denied the allegations and did not admit liability.
WRO was represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman.
A lawsuit filed by ECBA alleging that M&T Bank discriminated on the basis of race and national origin in its lending practices has been resolved for $485,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, plus changes in the bank’s loan products and policies. M&T Bank agreed not to use neighborhood racial criteria in its residential mortgage programs, to revise its fair lending policies and training program for loan officers, and to implement other reforms. In their complaint filed in early 2015, nine African American, Hispanic, South Asian, and white testers, along with the Fair Housing Justice Center, alleged that two of the bank’s New York City loan officers had discriminated against them during the pre-application stage of inquiring about home mortgages. Even though minority testers were assigned by FHJC to have more income, greater assets, fewer debts, and higher credit scores than their white counterparts, they alleged that the bank told them to consider lower home prices, higher cost loans or, in one instance, not to buy a home. Further, the plaintiffs alleged that they were steered away from certain loan products as well as neighborhoods because of their race and the racial composition of New York City neighborhoods.
Plaintiffs were represented by Diane L. Houk and R. Orion Danjuma.
A federal court has approved a $1.3 million settlement relating to the design and construction of two housing developments in Queens and Dutchess Counties, New York. The plaintiffs, a disabled woman who purchased a ground floor unit at the Queens site and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), alleged that the developers, architects, and site engineers failed to design and build the developments in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, rendering them inaccessible to residents and guests with physical disabilities.
Defendants will pay $900,000 for damages, attorneys’ fees, and retrofits to the individual plaintiff’s unit, driveway, and sidewalks. Defendants will also retrofit ground floor units and certain common areas at the Dutchess County project at their expense and have future residential sites reviewed for compliance. In addition, the settlement provides $400,000 for the FHJC to use to provide financial assistance to income eligible homeowners and renters with physical disabilities seeking to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing, including unit owners at the Queens development.
Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Ali Frick, and by James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.
ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging racially discriminatory renting practices at Mayfair Garden Apartments, a 107-unit apartment complex in Suffolk County on Long Island. ERASE Racism, Inc. and the Fair Housing Justice Center worked together to send similarly qualified white and African-American testers posing as potential renters to the defendants’ property to inquire about the availability of apartments and rental terms. The tests revealed that the building superintendent treated African-American testers less favorably than white testers during 2014. ERASE Racism and the Fair Housing Justice Center are joined as plaintiffs in the suit by the African Americans testers who were discriminated against. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Theodor O. Oxholm.
A federal judge approved a settlement agreement in ERASE Racism, et al. v. LLR Realty, LLC , et al., a case filed by ECBA in 2013 alleging race discrimination at a 74-unit rental apartment building in the Nassau County village of Mineola based on a testing investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC). The three-year agreement provides for injunctive relief, including the adoption of non-discriminatory rental policies, advertising available apartments, and attending fair housing training. It also provides ERASE Racism, the FHJC, and three African American testers with $165,000 in damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA’s Diane L. Houk and Sam Shapiro.