DOJ accuses broker of housing discrimination

Suit claims Denis Donovan discriminated against Black renters on Staten Island

New York /
Oct.October 02, 2020 01:50 PM
(Text courtesy of Department of Justice; Staten Island via iStock)

(Text courtesy of Department of Justice; Staten Island via iStock)

The Department of Justice has accused a Staten Island real estate broker of housing discrimination after a testing program revealed he offered rental discounts and other favorable treatment only to white clients.

Denis Donovan and his brokerage, Village Realty of Staten Island, were tested between February and May 2018 for compliance with the Fair Housing Act, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The probe revealed that Donovan told Black testers about fewer available units and offered rental discounts to white testers but not Black testers. Donovan also allegedly showed white testers housing options in majority white and racially mixed neighborhoods while offering Black testers options only in those racially mixed neighborhoods.

What’s more, the suit said Donovan told Black testers that they might be subject to certain requirements, including credit checks and signing disclosure forms to see available units, although he did not do the same for white testers.

Donovan declined to comment. Village Realty of Staten Island did not respond to a request for comment.

Housing discrimination has been getting more attention from elected officials since an undercover Newsday investigation found evidence that agents in Long Island were steering buyers to certain neighborhoods based on race, and telling Black buyers — but not white ones — that they needed pre-approved mortgages.

The three-year investigation prompted action from the state Senate, with dozens of agents and executives from firms like Douglas Elliman and Keller Williams called to testify. That move was initially met with resistance, and during a September hearing, many of the agents filmed undercover by Newsday were defensive about the probe and refused to admit they had engaged in discrimination.

The hearing also revealed that none of the brokerages had disciplined anyone involved, a detail that shocked senators and advocates.

Elliman’s Long Island CEO, Ann Conroy, said the brokerage had decided against disciplinary action because it determined that no discrimination had occured.

The comments seemed to frustrate Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who told Conroy that Douglas Elliman “has a real chance to step up, acknowledge a problem and fix it.”

“Instead,” he said, “you’re making a lot of excuses.”





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