The Oakfield Apartments gated community in Coram has agreed to...

The Oakfield Apartments gated community in Coram has agreed to pay $18,000 to a Long Island housing nonprofit to settle a housing discrimination complaint. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The owner of Oakview Apartments in Coram has agreed to pay $18,000 to a Long Island nonprofit to settle claims it discriminated against a prospective tenant who sought to use unemployment benefits to pay rent.

Long Island Housing Services, a Bohemia-based fair housing nonprofit, entered the settlement with the 433-unit Oakview Apartments, building owner Homestead Village Associates I LLC and property manager Cole Group Realty, which is based in Lodi, New Jersey.

LIHS alleged the denial represents a form of source-of-income discrimination, which is prohibited by state Human Rights Law, as well as local laws in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The laws forbid housing providers from refusing to accept lawful sources of income, including unemployment benefits, Section 8 housing vouchers and Social Security benefits.

The nonprofit’s investigation into the landlord stemmed from a 2021 complaint it received from a woman who had sought to use money from unemployment benefits to pay rent. The woman also had other income but remained eligible to collect unemployment insurance. She reached a separate settlement with the companies, which was not disclosed.

In response, LIHS conducted fair housing testing in which people posing as prospective renters inquired about using unemployment benefits to pay rent. An employee of the property manager told testers, “We don’t work with that,” and “We don’t take unemployment as salary,” the nonprofit alleged.

“It’s fine to know that somebody can pay the rent before they come in,” said Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services, meaning to have them show they can afford it. “When you get one step beyond that, it can become a problem.”

Cole Group Realty, which operates from the same New Jersey address where the LLC that owns the building is registered, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In New York, workers qualify for unemployment insurance if they lost employment through no fault of their own, earned enough from prior employment to establish a claim, actively seek out work and attend appointments at a local career center, according to the state Department of Labor.

People receiving weekly benefit payments can do so for a maximum of 26 weeks during a one-year period.

State and local laws prohibiting source-of-income discrimination exist to prevent landlords from discriminating against people using government benefits to find housing, said Frederick K. Brewington, an attorney based in Hempstead whose practice specializes in civil rights cases. Income for at-will employees is also not guaranteed to continue into the future, he said.

“Why then should someone who is at a particular point receiving some type of benefit [be] required to prove they’re going to have that benefit tomorrow?” Brewington said. “ … Simply because they happen to be at a low point in their work life doesn’t mean they should be denied housing.”

In addition to paying monetary damages, Oakview and Cole Group agreed to adopt a nondiscriminatory fair housing policy, post signage that it complies with fair housing laws and participate in fair housing training.

 The settlement is the latest reached by Long Island Housing Services over source-of-income discrimination following previous agreements at a Holbrook complex in August and with Brookwood Apartments and Heatherwood Luxury Rentals last year.

Wilder said LIHS plans to send Long Island municipalities forms that describe housing discrimination laws that they can present to landlords to sign when they issue rental permits. He said he hopes the forms can be educational and increase compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

“Nobody wants to pay an attorney for litigation, no one wants to pay an amount in a settlement,” Wilder said. “If they have the law in front of them, it may make them realize, 'This is a policy we need to change. We can’t do business like this. It will be expensive, and it’s a violation of the law.’” 

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