The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and a woman living with AIDS have filed a lawsuit against the Lefrak Organization, one of the nation’s largest real estate firms, alleging it discriminates based on disabilities and source of income.
The housing advocacy group filed the lawsuit after receiving a complaint from Housing Works, Inc., an advocacy group for people with HIV/AIDS. Housing Works said one of its clients, an unnamed 37-year-old “indigent” woman living with HIV or AIDS, was denied a studio or one-bedroom apartment at the 5,000-unit LeFrak City apartment complex in Elmhurst.
The lawsuit alleges LeFrak City denied the plaintiff’s application because she planned on paying her rent with a monthly shelter allowance from the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).
“The action we take today is intended to dismantle a discriminatory system, repair the harm caused by these practices, and ensure that house opportunities are available on an equal basis to all renters with public subsidies and to New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director of FHJC.
After receiving the complaint, the FHJC conducted an undercover investigation in which testers posed both as employed applicants and as applicants in the same situation as the plaintiff or with other types of rental assistance.
The investigation’s results led FHJC to conclude the Lefrak Organization and its subsidiary rental management company, Estate NY Real Estate Services, LLC, treat applicants with any kind of rental assistance differently than applicants who have their own source of income.
The lawsuit states that employed housing applicants are sent to an on-site leasing office at LeFrak City to meet with a leasing agent and receive floor plans, and that they get to see available apartments prior to filling out any applications.
On the other hand, FHJC claims applicants receiving rental assistance are sent to an off-site leasing office where they speak with employees behind a glass window, fill out rental applications, submit to credit and criminal background checks and provide documentation in order to get on a waiting list.
“Discrimination in housing is not merely odious and offensive, but it is life-threatening for thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS,” said Armen H. Merjian, senior staff attorney at Housing Works.
According to Freiberg, for thousands of people in New York City who are living with symptomatic HIV or AIDS and using an HASA rental subsidy, having a decent, stable and sanitary place to call home is critical to their health and well-being.
“We refute the allegations and are defending ourselves vigorously,” a spokesperson for the LeFrak Organization said.
The LeFrak Organization and its affiliates are one of the largest real estate holders in the U.S., with buildings in New York, California, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. In New York and New Jersey, Lefrak and its associates control over 200 apartments.
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