The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and a woman living with AIDS who applied to rent an apartment at the 5000-unit LeFrak City complex in Queens filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that the landlord discriminates on the basis of disability and source of income.
According to a press release from Housing Works, Inc., after receiving a complaint from a client, Housing Works reported to the FHJC that its client had been denied an apartment at LeFrak City, which houses around 15,000 people, because she intended to pay her rent with a subsidy from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (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.
The lawsuit alleges that the LeFrak Organization and its subsidiary rental management company, Estate NY Real Estate Services LLC, treat applicants with rental assistance of any kind, including persons with a HASA housing subsidy, differently and less favorably from applicants with income from employment.
The complaint alleges that applicants who are employed are directed to an on-site leasing office at LeFrak City where they meet with a leasing agent, obtain floor plans, and view available apartments prior to having any income verified or completing a rental application.
In 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 to be placed on a waiting list and before any information will be provided about apartments for rent or available apartments will be shown.
The lawsuit alleges this differential treatment constitutes intentional source of income discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law.
The complaint further alleges that the LeFrak policy of 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.
According to the lawsuit, a LeFrak agent acknowledged to a tester that she knew HASA would not provide such written documentation and that without it her office would not accept an application or assist a HASA client to find housing operated by the defendants.
Funding for the testing investigation conducted by the FHJC was provided under a grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).
The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP and Housing Works, Inc.
“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,” said Armen H. Merjian, Senior Staff Attorney at Housing Works.
The LeFrak Organization and its affiliates are one of the largest holders of real estate in the United States with buildings in New York, California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Lefrak and its related entities control over 200 apartment buildings in New York and New Jersey.
LeFrak did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.