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 A Bronx landlord was sued this week for relying solely on tenant referrals rather than advertising vacancies.

According to the complaint filed by the The Fair Housing Justice Center, the landlord told a white housing tester posing as a prospective tenant that the company never advertises available rental units because “if you run ads, you get all kinds of things.”

Instead, the company relied on tenant referrals. The landlord told one white tester, it is more likely a “good tenant” will recommend “someone good.”

The tenant population is mostly white.

FHJC says this type of referral process and the decision to withhold units from the open market limits the number of African Americans that will likely have access to available rental units in the Woodlawn community whose population, according to the 2010 Census, is less than 5% African American. By comparison, the 2010 Census reveals that over 36% of the total population in the Bronx is African American.

African American testers inquired about apartments at rent-stabilized buildings. On two separate occasions, the landlord met with African American testers only seconds after white testers had expressed disinterest in an available apartment shown to them. In both of these encounters, the manager misrepresented to African American testers that an apartment had just been rented to the white testers who were leaving the buildings as the African American testers arrived.

In one instance, the agent even denied to an African American tester that he was the agent responsible for providing information about the rentals at the buildings. The agent told white testers that the rent for one bedroom apartments was $1175, he told one African American tester that he did not know what the rents were and told another African American tester that rents ranged from $1275-1300 a month.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented “It is disgraceful that the company that built these apartment buildings in Woodlawn over 80 years ago is discriminating against African American renters in 2014.” Freiberg added “Housing providers who believe they can ‘get away’ with violating the law by engaging in the type of devious and deceitful conduct that is detailed in this complaint should think again. Racial discrimination in housing is illegal and the FHJC will continue to vigorously enforce fair housing laws by documenting discriminatory barriers that restrict access to housing and reinforce residential segregation.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws as well as damages and attorney’s fees.

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