Lori Gerardi, a plaintiff in the suit, in her home in...

Lori Gerardi, a plaintiff in the suit, in her home in Patchogue in 2019. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A group of five Suffolk County apartment complexes has reached a settlement with two Long Islanders and two nonprofits to resolve claims the companies engaged in racial and disability discrimination.

The plaintiffs alleged Black prospective tenants were told in 2016 that there were no available apartments while white tenants were told about available apartments, according to Long Island Housing Services, a plaintiff in the case. The would-be renters were fair housing testers working with LIHS.

The companies — NPS Property Corp., NPS Holiday Square LLC, Northwood Village Inc., Brightwaters Gardens Inc., Lakeside Garden Apartments LLC and South Shore Gardens LLC — agreed to pay $105,000 to Bohemia-based LIHS and will pay the fair housing nonprofit $25,000 a year for three years to conduct monitoring of the properties.

That settlement marks one of the largest sums LIHS has received in its work to enforce fair housing laws, which has yielded a litany of settlements, said Ian Wilder, executive director of LIHS.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • NPS Property Corp. agreed to a $105,000 settlement with Long Island Housing Services, ending a lawsuit over alleged racial and disability discrimination at five Suffolk County apartment complexes. 
  • NPS reached separate, confidential settlements with the nonprofit Suffolk Independent Living Organization and two Long Islanders with disabilities who alleged they were denied apartments because they sought to use government subsidies to pay part of their rent.
  • The settlement "sends a very strong message" to any landlord who would refuse to accept a housing voucher, said Joseph Delgado, CEO of Suffolk Independent Living Organization. 

NPS, while denying wrongdoing, reached separate settlement agreements with Doreen Kernozek, Lori Gerardi and Suffolk Independent Living Organization, a Medford-based nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities. The parties agreed to keep the total monetary damages paid by NPS confidential as part of the settlement.

Joseph Delgado, CEO of Suffolk Independent Living Organization, said the majority of housing providers on Long Island comply with fair housing laws and rent to people using government subsidies to pay rent. He’s hopeful the few that don’t will take note of the settlement.

“I think it sends a very strong message that no matter what hurdles a company thinks they can put in front of the individuals who are applying for housing, they’re not going to win,” Delgado said. “The law’s the law.”

The plaintiffs alleged in the lawsuit that Lindenhurst-based NPS Property Corp. owned and operated the apartment buildings, which are held in separate LLCs.

The buildings named in the lawsuit are:

  • Holiday Square, a 144-unit complex in West Babylon
  • Northwood Village, a 65-unit complex in North Babylon
  • Brightwater Gardens, a 24-unit complex in Brightwaters
  • Lakeside Garden Apartments, a 55-unit complex in Copiague
  • South Shore Gardens, also known as South Shore Commons, in West Babylon

Targeting disabilities 

In the lawsuit first filed in 2018, Suffolk Independent Living Organization alleged NPS properties refused to accept its clients, Kernozek and Gerardi, as tenants.

Kernozek alleged she was turned away from Holiday Square in West Babylon after seeking an apartment. A rental agent showing the apartment, before she was aware Kernozek had a disability, allegedly told her tenants with disabilities “bring their own set of problems” and said the complex sought to limit the number of tenants with disabilities living there, according to the lawsuit. 

When she shared she would use a housing voucher designed to help people with disabilities pay, she alleged the agent said it would be insufficient even though it provided enough to pay the rent. 

Gerardi was told by a representative at South Shore Gardens in West Babylon that the complex had “reached its quota” on individuals using housing subsidies when she sought an apartment therein September 2017, according to the lawsuit.

NPS said in court filings that it never authorized any representative of the company to discriminate based on race, disability status or source of income. 

Source-of-income discrimination occurs when a landlord discriminates against tenants with certain types of income, such as disability benefits, housing vouchers or unemployment benefits.

Differing treatment

LIHS said in 2016 it conducted a fair housing test of Northwood Village in North Babylon. The nonprofit uses paired testing, in which two people with fictitious identities seek the same type of housing with the same financial characteristics. In this case, one tester was white and one was Black. Both sought a one-bedroom apartment.

The nonprofit alleged the Black tester could not find a rental office or reach a rental agent by phone. She went to the complex and rang the super’s doorbell. He told her there were none available. She asked for a rental application and he refused to provide one because there was no vacancy, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, a white female tester went to the complex. The super told her no apartments were available but added there was a studio apartment at another NPS property in Brightwaters. The tester reached an NPS rental agent who said she could view the apartment in Brightwaters as well as others in West Babylon and Copiague, according to the lawsuit.

In two subsequent tests, the same superintendent at Northwood Village told white testers about apartments that might soon become available but did not volunteer the same information to Black testers.

“The damage that housing discrimination can do to communities is not trivial — it is deep and lasting,” attorney Brian Corman, partner at Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “Today’s settlement creates meaningful safeguards to ensure the fair housing laws continue to protect people of color, those with disabilities, and those using housing vouchers from intentional discrimination and unlawful policies that reinforce segregation.”

The company did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The deal followed a magistrate judge’s finding that NPS violated Suffolk County law when it denied applicants because of their housing vouchers.

NPS, through its attorney, Ilene Jaroslaw, said in a statement: “NPS does not discriminate, and has never discriminated, against anyone based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, age, sexual orientation, creed, marital status, military status, lawful source of income, gender identity, gender expression, ethnicity, veteran status, domestic violence victim status, arrest records, and citizenship and immigration status.”

Wilder, of LIHS, said landlords should be subject to the same type of training about fair housing laws as others in the real estate industry.

“We have these protocols in place for other professions around housing — for mortgage brokers and real estate agents — where they have training and continuing education,” Wilder said. “ … I think it’s important we set up something similar for housing providers.”

He would like to see municipalities that issue rental permits step in to require such training.

“It’s way past time at this point for municipalities to step in to help landlords who haven’t done so professionalize their operations by making sure they have some kind of compliance monitoring,” he said. “We keep seeing the same thing again and again.”

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