Lawsuit accuses Astoria landlord, super of turning away blacks

African-American testers were falsely told no units were available, group alleges

Jan.January 09, 2020 05:00 PM
34-08 30th Street (Credit: Google Maps)

34-08 30th Street (Credit: Google Maps)

A lawsuit alleges that superintendent Valentino Pellumbi did not tell African-American apartment hunters about available listings while encouraging prospective white tenants to rent at the same building.

The federal lawsuit, filed Thursday by the Fair Housing Justice Center, accuses Pellumbi and landlords Svetozar and Klara Tatkovic of housing discrimination last summer at 34-08 30th Street, a 45-unit rental building in Astoria.

“The behavior evidenced by the testing detailed above is reprehensible,” the lawsuit states. “It subjected the plaintiffs to debasement and humiliation, conveying to them clearly that they are, in the eyes of the building’s owners, management, and agents, lesser citizens than their white counterparts.”

Two black and four white testers, trained and dispatched by the fair-housing group, visited the property between July 30 and August 5, according to the lawsuit. One white tester who visited on the weekend was unable to find the superintendent, the other testers all spoke individually with Pellumbi — and received drastically different treatment.

The black testers were each told that, “to be honest,” no apartments would be available for several months. Meanwhile, the white testers were informed that a two-bedroom apartment was available for rent and were encouraged to contact the building’s broker.

Pellumbi also told one of the black testers, unprompted, that a two-bedroom apartment would be too expensive for him. When the tester told him that a $2,500 apartment was within his budget, “Pellumbi expressed surprise at this information.”

A month later, a final white tester confirmed with the building’s broker and management that the two-bedroom apartment had been rented and was no longer available. According to StreetEasy, a two-bedroom apartment at the property was listed in mid-July for $2,400 and taken off the market Aug. 1, around the time that FHJC’s testers inquired.

The defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Tatkovics had no direct interaction with the testers. But the advocacy group’s complaint alleges that the couple “is responsible for establishing, supervising, and enforcing the policies and practices through which apartments at the building are rented and through which tenants are selected.” The landlords, who have owned the Astoria building since the 1980s, property records show, do not appear to own any other multifamily properties in New York City.

The Fair Housing Justice Center, founded in 2005, brings the majority of housing discrimination cases in the city. Its paired-testing operations have previously prompted it to sue Brooklyn landlords Zev Pollak and the Parkoff Organization.

A broader paired-testing investigation conducted by Newsday over three years recently found racial discrimination was common among real estate brokers on Long Island. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a draft of a housing plan to combat housing discrimination, in part by sending out testers posing as home shoppers.

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