“It’s a Jewish building”: Brooklyn landlord accused of housing discrimination

Zev Pollak allegedly discriminated against tenants at 1411 Avenue N in Midwood

New York landlord Zev Pollak refused to let African Americans rent at one of his Brooklyn properties, maintaining that he was managing a “Jewish building,” according to a new federal lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, accuses Pollak, his company ZP Realty Capital and his employee Eldina Balic of engaging in housing discrimination at 1411 Avenue N, a 48-unit rental building in Midwood. Pollak repeatedly showed vacant apartments in the building to white testers from the FHJC between 2016 and 2019, but when African American testers from the FHJC asked about renting apartments in the building during the same time period, they were told none were available, the suit says.

Pollak’s “blatant and repeated conduct in violation of this fundamental American principle of equality is shocking and must end,” the suit says.

The FHJC initially sent a white man to 1411 Avenue N on Sept. 12, 2016 to ask about apartments for rent, where he met with Balic and visited a pair of two-bedroom apartments, the suit says. When they sent an African American man to the building the next day, Balic said she did not know of any apartments available for rent and did not let him look at any units, according to the lawsuit.

Another white man from the FHJC visited the building the following day and spoke with Pollak, who “encouraged the tester to apply, telling him that the neighborhood was ‘quiet and safe,’ and that the building was a ‘Jewish building,’ with many ‘little kids,’ and ‘good,’ ‘stable’ tenants,” the suit says.

This pattern repeated itself with two other white and African American testers throughout September 2016, and it occurred again in July 2018, according to the lawsuit.

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The most recent instance took place on Feb. 25, when Pollak called a white woman from the FHJC who had asked about vacant apartments in November to tell her that a one-bedroom apartment in the building was being renovated and was available for $1,795 per month, according to the lawsuit.

The FHJC then sent an African American man to the building on Feb. 27 to ask about available apartments, and Balic told him there was nothing available, according to the suit. When a white man from the FHJC went to the building the next day, Balic told him she thought there was a one-bedroom apartment available, and Pollak showed him the same vacant apartment the white woman had seen, according to the lawsuit.

The suit asks the court to rule that Pollak’s actions violate federal, state and city law and award the plaintiffs with an unspecified amount of damages.

The FHJC is also filing an administrative complaint with the New York Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services accusing Pollak, a licensed real estate broker, of racial discrimination.

“Racial discrimination in housing, while less visible than it was 50 years ago, is still quite pervasive and just as heinous and harmful as more overt discrimination,” FHJC executive director Fred Freiberg said in a statement, describing it as “beyond vexing that a real estate broker, licensed by the State of New York, is directly involved in making housing unavailable to people based on race.”

Pollak did not respond to a request for comment, and Balic could not be reached.

The FHJC filed a similar lawsuit in 2017 against the Parkoff Organization, accusing it of discriminating against black renters in its Midwood building at 2828 Kings Highway.