A federal discrimination lawsuit against a company that owns and manages at least five Suffolk County apartment complexes was amended Friday in an effort to make it a class action that would cover others who allegedly faced discrimination in seeking rentals .
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip accused Lindenhurst-based NPS Property Corp. of discriminating against people based on their race, disability and source of income.
In a statement, an attorney for NPS, Ilene Jaroslaw, said, "We believe the plaintiffs are deliberately mischaracterizing the facts and the law in this complaint. The properties in question house members of various races and nationalities, able-bodied and disabled persons, and subsidized and unsubsidized tenants. Like landlords throughout the New York metropolitan region, our clients welcome all renters who meet standard income and credit requirements."
A judge would need to grant permission for the suit to proceed as a class-action case. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Brian Corman of the Washington, D.C., office of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said they have until Aug. 30 to seek class-action status.
Jaroslaw said NPS will argue the case should not be allowed to go forward with class-action status.
In the original lawsuit filed in June, West Babylon resident Doreen Kernozek and two housing groups, Long Island Housing Services and Suffolk Independent Living Organization, charged NPS with discriminating against Kernozek because she is disabled and receives a federal subsidy for people with disabilities, and also against others on the basis of their race, disability and source of income.
NPS acknowledged in a September filing Kernozek tried to rent an apartment but said it did not discriminate against her or anyone else.
The court document filed Friday added one plaintiff, Lori Gerardi of Patchogue, who charged NPS with discriminating against her because she is disabled and receives a federal housing subsidy for disabled people.
The federal Fair Housing Act and state and local laws prohibit bias based on race and disability. Suffolk and Nassau county laws forbid discrimination based on source of income, such as government subsidies.
Gerardi said in the amended lawsuit she was told by an NPS representative that tenants must have an income that is at least double the monthly rent, regardless of subsidies. That policy, as well as others in place at NPS properties, would "discourage anyone who … had a disability-based subsidy from applying or from even inquiring about the apartments,” Corman said.
The lawsuit seeks a change in policy to stop discrimination at NPS properties, he said.
In the suit, Gerardi said she was turned down twice for apartments at South Shore Gardens, also known as South Shore Commons, a West Babylon complex operated by NPS. In 2017 Gerardi was told the complex had “reached its quota” for those receiving disability-related subsidies, and in 2018 she was told her income was not high enough and her subsidy would not be taken into consideration, according to the lawsuit.
Gerardi, 54, has osteoarthritis, vascular disease, epilepsy, cancer and ruptured spinal discs, the lawsuit said.
Before she joined the suit, the court filings focused on bias allegedly faced by Kernosek and by people hired by Long Island Housing Services to test for bias. In November 2016, Kernosek, who is disabled due to severe osteoporosis and high blood pressure, applied for an apartment at NPS’ Holiday Square complex in West Babylon. She was rejected due to her low income, even though her subsidy covered most of the rent and she could afford the rest, the lawsuit stated.
Suffolk Independent Living, which had been helping Kernosek find housing, contacted Long Island Housing Services to complain.
Before either of the women applied for apartments at the complexes, Long Island Housing Services had been sending “testers” to NPS properties to check for discrimination, according to the lawsuit. The group filed complaints with federal, state and county agencies in 2017, alleging consistent patterns of bias against people who are African-American, disabled or recipients of government subsidies.