Elliman makes case against Section 8 lawsuit, calling it ‘manufactured’

Voucher holder claimed brokerage and star agents didn’t help her find apartment

Elliman Makes Case Against Section 8 Discrimination Suit
Douglas Elliman's Howard Lorber, Frances Katzen and Noble Black

Douglas Elliman accused a lawyer Friday of engineering a lawsuit by a rental voucher holder against the firm and dozens of agents. The brokerage also laid out several reasons for why it feels the case is unwarranted.

The lawsuit, by Long Island resident Shaniqua Newkirk, said household names in brokerage including Noble Black, Tamir Shemesh, Frances Katzen and Tal and Oren Alexander did not help her find an apartment in New York City because she planned to use a Section 8 voucher.

Newkirk said roughly 30 current and former Elliman agents ghosted her or ignored her emails completely, violating her rights under the federal Fair Housing Act and source-of-income discrimination laws in New York.

But in a letter Friday to Newkirk’s attorney Steven Siegel, a lawyer for Elliman contended that Newkirk wasn’t discriminated against, that her complaint was filed too late and that Siegel coached her for the purpose of suing.

“Shaniqua Newkirk — an alleged Section 8 voucher holder — carried out a plan, under your counsel and direction, to manufacture claims … based on her unsolicited emails to DE agents inquiring about apartment availability,” attorney Jessica T. Rosenberg wrote.

Siegel did not return a request for comment.

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Rosenberg argued that it is not discriminatory to ignore an email, as several Elliman agents did, or to inform a tenant the agent had no apartments in the customer’s price range. Her points reflected a sentiment commonly held in the industry, judging by comments on The Real Deal’s Instagram post about the lawsuit.

“DE agents can receive hundreds of cold call emails and phone calls every week from prospective buyers and renters,” said Rosenberg. “The agents she targeted generally specialize in high-end luxury real estate sales, not rental listings; indeed, the agents were directly lifted from a publication listing ‘award winning agents’ at DE.”

Attorneys without specific knowledge of Newkirk’s case who spoke to TRD in September said ignoring an email from a Section 8 holder, a legally protected class, can amount to denial of service.

But an interpretation of fair housing and source-of-discrimination laws might not matter if a judge agrees with Elliman’s claim that Newkirk needed to file her complaint within two years of the alleged discrimination.

Elliman also argued that Newkirk’s allegations against executives of the brokerage, including chief counsel Kenneth Haber and Long Island CEO Ann Conroy, don’t hold up. The firm’s rationale is that agents are not employees — they are independent contractors — and that Newkirk’s argument that executives “knew or should have known” about the agents’ behavior cannot sustain her claim.

“Douglas Elliman has a zero tolerance policy towards unfair and illegal treatment of any individual or group,” an Elliman spokesperson previously told TRD. “We pride ourselves on our mandatory agent training program that is inclusive of rigorous fair housing law education.”

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