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Housing watchdog sues over alleged discrimination in Mineola

Town House Apartments in the Village of Mineola

Town House Apartments in the Village of Mineola at 225 First St. (Aug. 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Two advocacy groups filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court against the owner and manager of a Mineola apartment building, accusing them of discriminating against black prospective renters.

According to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages, black and white "testers" from Fair Housing Justice Center in Manhattan documented the discrimination on three visits in 2012 to Town House Apartments, a 74-unit building at 225 First St. Black applicants were quoted higher than normal rents and were lied to about apartment availability, the suit alleges. The suit names building superintendent Jorge Agudelo, who allegedly met the testers and acted as building agent on all three visits.

Agudelo denied the allegations yesterday. "That doesn't happen. We don't discriminate," he said in a brief phone interview. He added that the building has black tenants and that prices are "the same for everybody."

In one of the tests, according to the suit, Agudelo told a black Justice Center employee posing as a prospective renter on Sept. 10 that there were no one-bedroom apartments available and that a $1,725 apartment, for which there was a waiting list, probably would not be opening in the next month.

Hours later, according to the suit, Agudelo told a white tester that there was an apartment immediately available to rent for $1,675. According to the suit, he did not mention any waiting list. The building was selected because it is one of the largest rental buildings in Mineola, where officials say blacks are underrepresented in the rental market, occupying four percent of about 2,000 units.

The suit says that Justice Center and Syosset-based ERASE Racism began their operation after ERASE concluded "fair housing enforcement was not a Nassau County priority."

Though the county's fair housing law empowers its Human Rights Commission to investigate discrimination complaints, the suit says that body "has not initiated any of its own complaints and has not sought any injunctive relief in court."

A woman who answered the commission's phone yesterday referred questions to director Daniel Russell, who she said was not available.

County spokesman Brian Nevin did not return a request for comment. A message left for Town House's owner, Port Washington-based LLR Realty LLC, was not returned.

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