A Queens realty group recently reached a settlement with a mother of two foster children who says she was denied an apartment because of the age of her daughter, the Commission on Human Rights said.
Jessica Israel knew she wanted to live in Forest Hills to raise her foster daughter when she inquired about a two-bedroom apartment for $1,895 in August 2013.
“I had specifically moved to Forest Hills for the schools,” she told amNewYork in an exclusive interview.
But when Israel told Metro Garden Realty broker Roger Mashihi that she and her daughter would be coming to view the apartment, Mashihi asked how old her daughter was, she said.
Israel informed him that her daughter was 2 years old.
“I think the landlord is uncomfortable with that situation, giving that the tenant below plays music and it may disturb her sleep. Thanks for letting me know,” he replied in a text message, according to the settlement. He then offered to show her other apartments that were either outside of Forest Hills or more expensive, Israel said.
“I just said OK. I didn’t know what else to say,” Israel said. “I thought about it for a while, and then it dawned on me that it wasn’t OK.”
“I was in shock,” she added, explaining that she felt like they were turning something good she was doing — fostering a child — “into a negative.”
That’s when she called 311 and was connected to the CCHR. She learned that it’s illegal in the city for landlords or brokers to discriminate against tenants based on the presence of children.
After a yearslong investigation and negotiation process, a settlement was reached in August of this year.
Mashihi must pay Israel $5,000 and is required to attend a training on the NYC human rights law, post a “Notice of Rights” poster in public view in his office, give “Notice of Rights” posters to prospective tenants in all lease renewals for the next five years and complete 40 hours of community service within one year, the CCHR said. The landlords of the building were not found to be involved in the discrimination, the commission said.
“It was never about a monetary settlement,” Israel said. “It was more important that the people involved be educated and that this never happen to anybody else.”
Israel, who has since adopted her daughter, now 6, and the girl’s younger brother, 3, worries that others, like her, won’t realize when they are being discriminated against.
Discrimination based on the presence of children is often underreported for that reason; though, the number of claims has increased in recent years, the CCHR said. As of May 2017, there are 23 investigations into this type of claim, while in 2013 to 2014, there were just 11.
Mashihi has not attended the training as of press time, according to a CCHR spokesman. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.