In February, according to a lawsuit, when Lisa Darden went to a building in Sunnyside, Queens, and inquired about a one-bedroom apartment, the superintendent told her there were none available, and that he did not know when one might be.
Just over an hour later, the lawsuit states, another woman made the same inquiry. This time, the superintendent showed her a vacant apartment, told her he’d knock $100 off the rent because she was “nice people,” and handed her a rental application, according to the suit.
Ms. Darden is African-American, the other woman is white. The race-dependent availability of apartments was a pattern at the 107-unit apartment building at 41-41 46th Street, according to the Fair Housing Justice Center, a nonprofit group that sent both women out as discrimination “testers.”
The justice center and three African-American testers filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against the building’s owner, the Nasa Real Estate Corporation, and the building’s superintendent, Irfan Bekdemir, who the suit said acted as Nasa’s agent.
According to the complaint (see also below), filed in federal court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn, the three African-American testers were prevented from viewing apartments on separate occasions in February.
Mr. Bekdemir also quoted higher rents to the African-American testers, the complaint states, telling Ms. Darden that rents were generally between $1,500 and $1,700, while telling the white tester who followed her that he could rent her the apartment for $1,400.
“This building is choice people. Not everybody,” Mr. Bekdemir told the white tester, according to the complaint.
Elizabeth S. Saylor, a lawyer of the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady who is representing the plaintiffs, said that investigations like the one conducted by the justice center were one of the only ways to expose discrimination.
“Systemic housing discrimination still persists throughout New York City, and most of this discrimination is not known because of the subtle and stealthy nature of the housing discrimination,” she said. “He did not tell the African-American testers you can’t live there because they’re black. They wouldn’t even know they were being discriminated against if it wasn’t for what he told the white testers.”
Bruno Ilibassi, who is listed as the principal executive of Nasa Real Estate Corporation, did not return a request for comment left with someone who answered the phone at his office. Someone who answered the phone at Mr. Bekdemir’s apartment said he was not available and would not give a time when he would be.
The investigation was prompted by the neighborhood’s demographics: black households make up 2 percent of the renters in the eight-square-block census tract that the building sits in, while they make up 18 percent of renter households in Queens, the justice center said.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages as well as other forms of relief, such as “the creation of non-discriminatory policies, training, and monitoring.”
The justice center has been involved in similar lawsuits throughout lower New York state.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 6, 2012
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post stated erroneously that the Fair Housing Justice Center has filed lawsuits in New Jersey. It has not; the center works only in New York state.