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Federal Lawsuit Resolved Providing Housing Accessibility for Disabled Clients

ECBA attorneys and the Office of the United States Attorney General for the Southern District of New York negotiated a $525,000 settlement for disabled residents at a Mt. Kisco senior condominium building.  The settlement includes retrofits to common areas and individual units, as well as damages for ECBA’s five clients.  Retrofits have already been completed to make accessible the buildings’ front door, lobby doors on each floor at the elevator, and interior entrance to the garage.  Additional retrofits will be made to replace patio/balcony doors, correct slopes in the parking lot that are too steep, and modify other inaccessible features in the building.  The defendants, JOBCO, Bedford Development LLC, Carnegie Construction Corp., Robert Pascucci, and Warshauer Mellusi Warshauer Architects P.C., agreed to resolve ECBA’s clients’ claims after the filing of a federal lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act.  The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys, Diane L. Houk and Jessica Clarke.

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ECBA Attorneys Reach Historic Settlement to Reform Facebook’s Housing Advertising Platform

On March 18, 2019 ECBA attorneys announced a $2,450,000 settlement for clients the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”), the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”) to settle housing discrimination claims against Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”).  This agreement will implement far-reaching changes across Facebook’s advertising platform for housing, employment and credit (“HEC”) advertising.  In March, 2018 ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging that Facebook had created pre-populated lists making it possible for housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) Facebook users from receiving rental, sales or financing ads because of their race, national origin, sex, disability or family status.

The Facebook settlement sets a new benchmark for assuring that targeted advertising on social media complies with civil rights laws.  Facebook will establish a separate advertising portal for creating HEC ads on Facebook and all Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram and Messenger.  On this new portal, HEC advertisers will not be able to target Facebook users (1) based on gender, age or multi-cultural affinity; (2) by zip code as all HEC ads must have a minimum geographic radius of 15 miles from a specific address or from the center of a city; and (3) based on categories that describe or appear to relate to personal characteristics or classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, including, race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation.

In addition, Facebook will create a new page which will allow consumers to view all housing ads placed on the Facebook platform irrespective of whether the consumer was part of the advertisers’ targeted audience.  NFHA will work with Facebook to develop an in-house fair housing training program for Facebook leadership and staff.  Facebook will provide ECBA’s clients with $500,000 of in-kind advertising to promote fair housing on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook will pay $1.9 million in damages and attorneys’ fees, including to provide future training for housing advertisers on how to use social media in a manner consistent with fair housing laws and to create programming to promote fair housing using social media.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

Click here to read NFHA’s press release.

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Read more about ECBA’s work on this case in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

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ECBA Sues Suburban Landlord Alleging Race Discrimination

ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging racially discriminatory rental practices at a 53-unit Eastchester apartment building in Westchester County, New York.  The Fair Housing Justice Center sent similarly qualified White and African-American testers posing as potential renters to the building to inquire about the availability of apartments for rent and the application process. The 2018 tests revealed that the building superintendent treated African-Americans less favorably than Whites, including refusing to give them applications, showing them fewer apartments, and/or falsely claiming there was a waiting list or contracts pending on vacant apartments.  The building is in a census tract that is less than 3% African American but is adjacent to communities with a 20% or higher African American population.

The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk. Read the complaint here.

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ECBA Sues Facebook for Discriminatory Housing Advertising

On March 27, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (“ECBA”) filed suit in federal district court against Facebook, Inc. on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and three of its member organizations alleging that Facebook’s advertising platform enables landlords and real estate brokers to exclude families with children, women, and other protected classes of people from receiving housing ads.  The lawsuit alleges that Facebook has created pre-populated lists that make it possible for its housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) home seekers from viewing or receiving rental or sales ads because of protected characteristics, including family status and sex.

Plaintiffs—NFHA, New York City-based Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Miami-based Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”)—created a non-existent realty firm and then prepared dozens of housing advertisements that they submitted to Facebook for review.  Facebook provided Plaintiffs with specific lists of groups they could exclude from receiving the ads, including families with children, moms with children of certain ages, women or men, and other categories based on sex or family status. The investigations also revealed that Facebook provides housing advertisers with the ability to exclude certain “interest” categories from receiving ads that are disability-based (e.g., people who are interested in disabled veterans or disabled parking permits) or national origin-based (e.g., people who are interested in English as a second language).

The Complaint alleges that these practices violate the Fair Housing Act and New York City Human Rights Law and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief declaring Facebook’s conduct illegal and requiring Facebook to change its advertising platform and practices to comply with fair housing laws.  The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman

Read the full complaint here.

For more information, read coverage from the New York Times, New York Daily News, Curbed, and New York Law Journal

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ECBA Sues Large NYC Property Manager for Disability and Source of Income Discrimination

On February 21, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA) filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Alfred Spooner and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) alleging disability and source of income discrimination against Goldfarb Properties—a managing agent of over 6,000 apartments throughout New York City and its surrounding suburbs.

The lawsuit challenges Goldfarb’s practice of imposing a minimum annual income requirement on low-income, disabled, housing applicants like Mr. Spooner who use state-funded vouchers to pay the majority of their rent. After Mr. Spooner’s rental application was rejected, the FHJC sent testers posing as potential renters with rental subsidies and vouchers to the defendant’s properties to inquire about the availability of apartments. The tests revealed that Goldfarb categorically turned away these applicants even though they had the means to pay the full rent because they did not make forty-three times the rent in income—a practical impossibility for any person eligible for a disability-and-income-based voucher. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and David Berman.

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ECBA Attorney Jessica Clarke Quoted in BBC Article on Sexual Harassment in Housing

ECBA attorney Jessica Clarke was quoted in a BBC article titled: “A woman’s choice – sexual favours or lose her home.” The article details a case that Jessica Clarke worked on while an attorney at the Justice Department, in which women were coerced into sexual encounters with men who were in control of their housing. The case was in Laurinburg, North Carolina and involved two employees of a public housing agency that administered the Section 8 voucher program. The two men threatened to revoke housing vouchers for numerous women unless they acquiesced to their sexual demands. As Jessica describes in the article “[t]he breadth of it was so shocking. . . . When the person who has the keys to your door, who controls where you live is a predator, there’s nothing scarier.”

To read the full article, click here.

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ECBA Resolves Broadway Triangle Housing Discrimination Case with Landmark Settlement

A landmark settlement agreement was filed with the Court today resolving a lawsuit brought by ECBA’s client the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, a diverse group of more than 40 nonprofits, residents, and fair housing advocates.  The Coalition filed suit 8 years ago, alleging that the City’s rezoning and development plans for the Broadway Triangle area of Brooklyn were discriminatory and perpetuated segregation.

The settlement agreement provides for the development of over 375 permanently affordable apartments that will be developed in a way designed to further fair housing without discrimination.  The agreement also provides that the City will pay between $2.4 and $4.8 million to fund fair housing workshops, counseling and educational materials, as well as legal representation for people with housing discrimination complaints in the Broadway Triangle neighborhood, which lies at the intersection of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“After years of effort, today’s settlement means the city will properly respond to the real needs of our diverse communities in North Brooklyn,” said Juan Ramos of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition. “There is a long history of housing discrimination in this area, and affordable housing in the Broadway Triangle is more important than ever given the rapid gentrification and displacement of families who have lived here for generations.”

“The affordable housing development plan, combined with fair housing services in this settlement agreement, provides a strong template for other neighborhoods across the country to use when challenging racially discriminatory housing redevelopment plans,” said ECBA’s Diane L. Houk.

The Coalition is represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman, together with the New York Civil Liberties Union and  Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A.

Click here to read the press release.

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Click here to read the New York Times story on the settlement.

Click here to read the New York Law Journal story on the settlement.

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ECBA Negotiates Largest Fair Housing Justice Center Settlement For Discrimination Case

On behalf of their clients the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African American testers, ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman negotiated the largest settlement that FHJC has ever obtained in the private rental market for a race, color, and source of income discrimination case. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleged that Defendants 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.

The case settled for $620,000 plus extensive injunctive relief for FHJC, three African American testers, and one home-seeker represented by Mobilization for Justice.

See more here.

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ECBA Sues Westchester Town for Discriminatory Zoning that Favors Whites

ECBA filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO) against the Town of Bedford and its affordable housing agency, Blue Mountain Development.

Like other Westchester County towns, Bedford’s population is overwhelmingly white. The complaint alleges that the Town awards its affordable “middle income” housing using “preferences” in its zoning code. These preferences prioritize people who already live or work in Bedford and who are far more likely to be white. These preferences violate the Fair Housing Act because they discriminate against African Americans who would otherwise be eligible for the Town’s affordable housing and make it more likely the housing will be given to white people.

The plaintiffs FHJC and WRO are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman.

Read the complaint here.

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$125K Settlement in ECBA Housing Discrimination Case

A White Plains housing cooperative and rental management company have paid $125,000 to settle a housing discrimination case initiated by M. Forster, a 34-year old disabled man living in Westchester County, New York.  Mr. Forster sought to purchase an apartment in a building owned by the coop and managed by the rental company using his special needs trust, but was told that ownership by trust was not permitted.  The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice,  challenged the coop’s and management company’s refusal to grant Mr. Forster a reasonable accommodation.  The settlement was covered by Westfair Online here, and a press release issued by the government can be found here.

ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman represented Mr. Forster and his special needs trust.

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