Written by Rich Forestano Thursday, 26 June 2014 00:00
ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based nonprofit advocating racial equality, announced last week that it reached a $165,000 settlement with Town House Apartments of Mineola in a fair housing lawsuit filed last summer. The settlement handed down by Judge Gary Brown also includes employee training at the complex, owned by LLR Realty LLC in Port Washington.
According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, ERASE Racism reached out to the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in Manhattan, which sent white and African American “test” renters to the 74-unit apartment complex in Mineola from August to October 2012. Settlement documents say that on three separate occasions, black testers were quoted higher rents or told rooms were being
renovated/unavailable. Attempts to reach Building Superintendent Jorge Agudelo were unsuccessful.
“We brought this case because we had compelling evidence of racial discrimination and African Americans cannot be denied housing choice based on race,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said.
The complaint said that on Sept. 10, 2012, FHJC sent L.B. Williams, a black tester, to meet with Agudelo to discuss open apartments and Agudelo said none were available, but there “might be one available next month on the third floor.” The rent would cost $1,725 per month, he said.
When Williams asked to see the third floor dwelling, Agudelo said no, court documents said. Williams asked if there was a waiting list for units, and Agudelo answered “he had people waiting” and that he’d call Williams later about the apartment.
Four hours later, FHJC sent a white tester to the apartment complex after Williams’ visit, for dwelling inquiries. The papers argue Agudelo said there was a room available and showed the third floor apartment to the white tester, said it was “immediately available to rent and volunteered the rent at $1,675 per month.’
“This settlement should send a clear message to other rental housing providers on Long Island that housing must be made available on an equal basis to all people without regard to race,” FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg said.
Lisa Darden visited Town House on Sept. 11, 2012 and met with Agudelo to talk about rent, where he said it would cost $1,750 per month, the complaint said. Darden responded that $1,700 was her limit, but Agudelo said the price was non-negotiable.
Two hours later, a white female tester was sent to Town House and inquired if a room would be available by Oct. 1. Agudelo, the report said, noted that two were available, one for $1,675 while the other cost $1,700. The documents said Agudelo indicated rent was negotiable.
“Many people would like to believe that this type of housing discrimination is no longer an issue, said Gross. “It is a shame that the burden falls on a small number of concerned organizations, like ERASE
Racism, to document the discrimination and use the courts to stop it.”
Oct. 9, 2012 saw a white tester sent to the Mineola complex, where they asked if a room would be available Nov. 1. According to documents, Agudelo said it would be available at $1,650 per month. He also showed the tester a second apartment at $1,700 which was, “remodeled and had a better kitchen” than the first apartment.
On Oct. 12, FHJC sent Inga Ballard to inquire about apartments. Agudelo told her one room was available, the papers said. He showed her the first room, but did not mention the second, refinished unit. The same white tester from Oct. 9 returned to Mineola after Ballard left and “asked if [the remodeled] room Ballard was not told about, was still available for rent,” the papers said. Agudelo said it was and told the white tester to come back on Oct. 13 to fill out an application and bring two $1,700 checks if she was interested in renting.
“The FHJC will continue to work with ERASE Racism and other organizations to ensure that fair housing laws are vigorously enforced,” Freiberg said.