Queens firm charged with violating fair housing act

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged a Queens residential real estate firm and one of its brokers with violating the Fair Housing Act by placing an advertisement on Craigslist that discriminated against families with children, according to HUD.

According to the allegations, Roberto Tristaino, then agent with MetroNet Realty in Old Howard Beach, placed the ads for a two-bedroom rental apartment in Bergen Beach on Craigslist in September and October 2008 with the note “mature couple or single without children” in the description.

Such descriptions violate the Fair Housing Act, which forbids any “preference, limitation or discrimination” based on familial status,” HUD indicated in the release.

“Advertising that discriminates against families with children is against the law, whether it’s in print or online. Real estate professionals are expected to know the law,” John Trasviña, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement.

There have been several similar cases in New York City recently. The Corcoran Group, for example, chose to ban certain terms from their advertisements, while other firms have run into problems with possible racial discrimination or advertisements about the schools in the area.

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The specific case in the charge was included in a 2009 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance titled “For rent: No kids: How Internet housing advertisements perpetuate discrimination.” NFHA, a Washington D.C. based advocacy-group, is the complainant in the case.

Tristaino, now an agent for Fillmore Real Estate in Brooklyn, told The Real Deal that he did not post the ads and that somebody had broken into his account. “It was some kind of mistake,” he said. “Somebody went into my Craigslist account… it got broken into, and they made the ad without my authorization.”

Tristaino said he had problems with his account after receiving what he later realized were scam emails instructing him to log in to his account and that he had to make a new one as a result. He said he had sent information to HUD showing that his account was broken into.

Fillmore and Joseph Barretta, owner of MetroNet Realty, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the charge, HUD’s effort to conciliate the complaint was unsuccessful. HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

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