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September 18, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Eastchester apartment building discriminated, civil rights group claims

An Eastchester landlord and building superintendent have been accused of racial discrimination after a seven-week sting operation that used black and white testers posing as prospective tenants.

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) sued New Property Associates LLC and Dikson Dumitrescu, the super, on Sept. 20 in White Plains federal court. The complaint accuses them of violating the federal Fair Housing Act and New York civil rights law.

The FHJC and three African-American testers claim that the landlord and superintendent provided untruthful information about available apartments “based on race or color.”

New Property and Dumitrescu did not immediately respond to phone and fax messages asking for their side of the story.

The allegations concern a 53-unit apartment building at 9 New St. in Eastchester. New Property, based in Mount Vernon, owns the building and hundreds of other rental units in Westchester County and Long Island. Cesare DeFeo is identified as the principal owner but is not named as a defendant.

FHJC is a nonprofit civil rights organization based in Long Island City that serves New York City and seven surrounding counties on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

White testers, who are not identified in the lawsuit, were offered rental applications, given the super’s cell phone number and encouraged to submit the applications directly to the super, the complaint states.

African-Americans who visited the building before and after the white testers were allegedly told falsely that apartments were under contract, told there was a waiting list, directed to call a broker for an application or not given the super’s phone number.

On Feb. 27, for instance, a white man posing as a prospective tenant met Dumitrescu and was shown apartment 4E. He was told that the one-bedroom apartment was immediately available for rent, according to the complaint written by Diane L. Houk of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady in Manhattan.

Dumitrescu gave the white man a rental application and encouraged the prospective tenant to return the completed form to him. The super allegedly said he would forward the form to management and would call a manager that day to talk about the applicant.

Bianca Jones, an African-American tester, went to the building the next day. The super allegedly told her that two apartments were available but were under contract. She asked to see the apartments and was shown 4E.

Dumitrescu did not offer her a rental application. Instead, he directed Jones to call a real estate agent named Anthony to ask about rentals, the complaint states. He said Anthony also had rentals in Yonkers and Mount Vernon, cities with substantially higher African-American populations. The Eastchester building is in a census tract that had less than 3 percent African-Americans in the 2010 census.

Dumitrescu also showed Jones apartment 4C, according to the complaint, but said there was a waiting list for the building and Anthony could give her “more options.”

The white tester called Dumitrescu the following day and asked if 4E was still available. It was, the complaint states, and they discussed rent and parking. The tester asked if anyone else had been looking at 4E. Dumitrescu allegedly said he had shown the apartment to two people but had not given out any applications.

FHJC claims that African-Americans Justin Carter and Michael James encountered similar resistance when they asked about apartments, in contrast to the experiences of white testers.

The alleged discrimination damaged FHJC “by frustrating its mission of creating communities free of segregation,” the complaint states, and by causing the organization to divert resources to counteracting unlawful housing practices.

Jones, Carter and James claim they suffered a loss of civil rights and were subjected to emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.

FHJC and the African-American testers are asking the court to make the landlord and super stop discriminating on the basis of race or color, change their policies and practices, train employees on fair housing laws, advertise apartments for rent in a nondiscriminatory manner and allow monitoring of applications. They also are asking for unspecified damages.