The Suffolk County Human Rights Commission has ruled that an East Patchogue apartment complex illegally discriminated against people who receive housing subsidies.
The decision came as discrimination based on how people receive their income has become an increasingly high-profile issue. The nonprofit Long Island Housing Services, which filed the discrimination complaint against the complex and released a copy of the commission’s decision Thursday, also announced this month that it reached a settlement with a North Babylon real estate brokerage in a case that involved allegations of bias based on prospective tenants’ source of income.
In the East Patchogue case, the commission ordered the complex, identified as Greenbriar Luxury Apartments on Robinson Avenue, to accept housing subsidies, the decision shows. In addition, the complex, the real estate investment company Marbil Investors LLC and the company’s owners, William J. Christie and Emmett Christie, must compensate Bohemia-based Long Island Housing Services for its costs to "identify and counteract these discriminatory practices," the decision shows.
LIHS has calculated its costs at $23,855, said Ian Wilder, executive director of LIHS. The group filed the complaint in 2016, after its testers were told the complex did not accept federal housing-choice subsidies, also known as Section 8 vouchers, the commission wrote.
The complex argued in its defense that it did not discriminate, that the federal program is voluntary and that the complex is "allowed not to participate in" it, the decision shows.
In fact, the commission wrote, under county law, "it is unlawful to refuse to rent to an individual because of that individual’s lawful source of income."
Prospective tenants have a right to housing, "regardless of their source of income," Dawn Lott, executive director of the commission, said in an interview.
Marbil Investors and its owners did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. A woman who answered a phone number listed for Emmett Christie said, "he’s not affiliated with them anymore." Their attorney, Stanley Somer, did not respond to requests for comment.
Marbil sold the complex in 2018 to Fairfield Properties, which was not named in the decision. A Fairfield representative said the company "has no involvement in what happened to a property prior to its ownership and fully supports Fair Housing throughout its properties." Under its previous owners, the complex’s sign identified it as Greenbrier Luxury Apartments.
Wilder said discrimination based on source of income can be a subtle way of practicing bias based on race, disability or other factors. In many cases, he said, "it’s been out in the open." In other cases, prospective tenants who use vouchers are falsely told no apartments are available, he said.
But that’s against the law too, he said. "You can’t make pizzas and say, ‘well, I didn’t know I had to follow these food safety rules.’"
In a separate case, LlHS reached a settlement with a North Babylon brokerage, Coldwell Banker Easton Properties, over a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights alleging the brokerage discriminated against those who receive housing subsidies for people with disabilities, as well as those receiving Section 8 vouchers. The brokerage agreed to change its policies, train its staff and compensate the housing group for its costs, Wilder said. The brokerage paid the group $4,500 last month, he said.
That case arose from the group’s 2018 investigation of New Highway Apartments in Copiague, which reached a settlement last year that included a $10,000 payment to LIHS. Wilder said the group assigned testers to inquire about apartments at the complex, and the complex refused to rent to those who said they had Section 8 vouchers or subsidies for people with disabilities.
The North Babylon brokerage, the Copiague complex and their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
Starting in September, a new state law requires state agencies and nonprofits that administer housing subsidies to give recipients written notice about their fair-housing rights, said Andrew Lieb, an attorney in Smithtown who represents brokers and conducts fair-housing training.
Lieb said fair-housing enforcement has become a higher priority at the local, state and federal level, which he said was prompted by Newsday’s 2019 Long Island Divided project, a three-year investigation into housing bias.
What to know
- A Suffolk apartment complex broke the law by refusing Section 8 vouchers, a county commission ruled.
- In separate cases, a brokerage paid $4,500 and another complex paid $10,000 to settle housing-bias complaints.
- Local and state laws prohibit discrimination based on legal sources of income such as vouchers.
- Fair-housing enforcement has become a higher priority at the local, state and federal level.