DOJ Testers Accuse NY Rental Agent of Race Discrimination

The Justice Department recently announced that it has filed a lawsuit against a Staten Island, N.Y., realty company and its former rental agent, alleging discrimination against African Americans in violation of federal fair housing law when offering housing units for rent. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.

The complaint alleges that the former agent discriminated against prospects on the basis of race by treating African Americans who inquired about available rental units differently and less favorably than similarly situated white prospects. According to the complaint, the agent told African-American testers about fewer rental units than white testers, offered white testers rental discounts and opportunities to inspect units that were not offered to African-American testers, generally offered African-American testers units only in racially mixed neighborhoods while offering white testers units in both overwhelmingly white and racially mixed neighborhoods, and made more encouraging comments to white testers about available rental units.

“Freedom for Americans means that people can live peacefully in our nation without regard to their race, ancestry, sex, and other protected traits,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The United States and its laws forbid segregation in which people are judged, divided, and harmed because of the color of their skin. Race never should be a factor that determines where someone can live. No one should have their housing choices limited, whether by explicit refusals to rent on the basis of race, or more subtle differences in the way home seekers are treated when they ask about available properties. Whether obvious or less apparent, race discrimination in the rental housing market is intolerable. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcement of the Fair Housing Act to ensure that people have equal access to rental housing, and equal treatment when seeking rental housing, regardless of race, including by uncovering hidden discrimination through our Fair Housing Testing Program.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination.