NYC Charges Queens Landlord With Retaliating Against Immigrant Tenants Who Filed Discrimination Complaints

July 19, 2017

NYC Commission on Human Rights continues enforcement against landlords discriminating against tenants based on immigration status, sending cease and desist letters to other landlords in violation of the NYC Human Rights Law and warning of legal consequences

NEW YORK—New York City announced charges today against a landlord in Ridgewood, Queens for retaliating against immigrant tenants after they reported him to the NYC Commission on Human Rights for discrimination based on immigration status. In March, the Commission served the landlord a notice of the complaint alleging discrimination after Make the Road NY brought the case to the Commission. In his response letter to the Commission, the landlord denied the allegations and indicated that he sent a copy of the letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which included tenants' personal information, in violation of the NYC Human Rights Law’s retaliation protections.

The Commission is now charging the landlord with retaliation against his tenants and filing a complaint against him on behalf of the City. Out of concern for the tenants’ safety, the Commission is not releasing the names of the tenants in these cases. The Commission has notified the landlord of the retaliation charges and is awaiting a response.

"Our message is loud and clear: we will hold landlords accountable for discrimination in our city,” said Mayor de Blasio. “We stand with tenants, regardless of their origin, in Queens and across the five boroughs."

"The Commission will not hesitate to take action against bad actors when they retaliate against New Yorkers who have reported discrimination," said Assistant Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Sapna V. Raj. "The NYC Human Rights Law makes it illegal to retaliate against any individual for reporting discrimination, regardless of their immigration status. Everyone in New York City deserves the right to live free from discrimination and harassment and should not fear for their safety when reporting violations of the Law."

"This repeated harassment and retaliation against immigrant tenants is unlawful and unacceptable in New York City," said Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. "It is very unfortunate that certain bad actors feel emboldened to follow Washington’s lead in hostility towards immigrants. We are proud of our colleagues at the NYC Commission on Human Rights for taking action, standing with our fellow New Yorkers, and making clear that immigrants’ rights must be respected in our city."

"While landlords have been threatening to call ICE on immigrant tenants for years, we have seen a significant increase in this form of harassment since Trump was elected," said Senior Staff Attorney at Make the Road New York, Ryan Napoli. "The Commission on Human Rights has been an important partner and advocate for the immigrant community in combating this intimidation, and we applaud the Commission's actions in this case."

"My landlord has been harassing and threatening me and my family for over a year. Most recently, he started threatening us with ICE unless we moved out of our apartment immediately," said a tenant and member of Make the Road New York. "With the help of Make the Road New York and the Commission on Human Rights, I know that I have rights and I no longer feel that I have to live in fear. I am grateful for this support and I am glad that the Commission is launching these investigations. I urge other immigrant families to reach out to the Commission and stand up for their right to live with respect and dignity."

In an effort to further crack down on landlords for discriminating against tenants based on their immigration status, the Commission recently sent a cease and desist letter to landlord Zara Realty Holding Corp (Queens) for discriminating against immigrant tenants. Last month, the Commission sent a similar letter to landlord Jaideep Reddy (Queens) after it learned he was discriminating against tenants based on their immigration status. The Commission has heard from these landlords and is exploring further enforcement actions.

When the Commission identifies housing discrimination, it may take the following actions to address the violation:

  • Launch investigations against landlords based on complaints from tenants.
  • Launch its own Commission-initiated investigations into landlords the Commission believes is discriminating against members of the public. The Commission may launch a Commission-initiated investigation after receiving anonymous tips, reports, or complaints from members of the public or based on evidence uncovered through its testing program.
  • Send a “cease and desist” letter when it learns a landlord has engaged in discriminatory behavior to direct the landlord to immediately comply with the Law.

In this specific case, the Commission filed additional charges against the landlord after he copied ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in his response to the Commission’s initial complaint filed by tenants alleging discrimination based on their immigration status. The NYC Human Rights Law explicitly prohibits retaliation for filing discrimination claims with the Commission. It is also illegal in New York City to discriminate against or harass a tenant because of their immigration status or national origin, among other protected categories.

The Commission has the authority to fine violators with civil penalties of up to $250,000 for willful and malicious violations of the Law and can award compensatory damages to victims, including emotional distress damages and other benefits. The Commission can also order trainings on the NYC Human Rights Law, changes to policies, and other relief such as community service and mediated apologies.

Over the past two years, Commission has increased enforcement efforts to address housing discrimination based on immigration status and national origin.

  • Over the last two years, the Commission has doubled the overall number of investigations into discrimination based on immigration status and/or national origin, filing 376 claims in those areas in 2016/2015 compared to 155 claims in 2014/2013.
  • In 2016 alone, the Commission more than doubled the number of new investigations into discrimination based on immigration status and/or national origin in housing, filing 60 claims in 2016 compared to 22 in 2015. 
  • The Commission is currently investigating 291 claims of discrimination based on immigration status and/or national origin, 89 claims specifically in housing.

Additionally, the Commission has held nearly 400 workshops and outreach events this year to educate tenants about their housing rights. The Commission also trains housing providers on their responsibilities under the Law with the goal of preventing future acts of discrimination and regularly engages housing advocates and vulnerable communities to address housing discrimination and inform people of their rights. Learn more about housing protections against discrimination in New York City at www.nyc.gov/fairhousing.

If you or someone you know believes they are the victim of discrimination or harassment by their landlord, call 311 and ask for NYC Commission on Human Rights or call the Commission’s Infoline at 718-722-3131. Reports may also be filed anonymously. People may also report discrimination on the Commission’s website.

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