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Justice Department Files Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against Staten Island, New York Rental Agent and Real Estate Agency

The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Village Realty of Staten Island Ltd. and Denis Donovan, a sales and former rental agent at Village Realty, alleging discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act 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, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that Donovan discriminated against prospective renters on the basis of race by treating African Americans who inquired about available rental units differently and less favorably than similarly-situated white persons. According to the complaint, Donovan 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. The lawsuit alleges that Village Realty is legally responsible for Donovan’s alleged discrimination because Donovan worked as Village Realty’s rental agent. 

“Freedom for Americans means that people can live peacefully in our nation without regard to their race, ancestry, sex, and other protected traits,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “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 U.S. Attorney’s Office has been, and always will be, dedicated to protecting the rights established by the Fair Housing Act, which demands that individuals and families of all races, colors and nationalities are treated fairly when they want to buy or rent a home,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme. “Today’s lawsuit reinforces this Office’s commitment to eliminating discrimination in housing.”

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

Individuals who believe they may have experienced discrimination at Village Realty or believe they may have information relevant to this case should contact the Department of Justice toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, by email at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or by submitting a report online.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the department’s fair housing enforcement can be found at www.justice.gov/fairhousing.