Proving Your Case
Housing discrimination cases are fact-intensive and often turn on questions of credibility. In other words, while there is no question that housing discrimination is illegal, the issue in a housing discrimination lawsuit often is whether or not the defendant actually engaged in illegal housing discrimination.
Typical defenses asserted by property owners and real estate companies and agents in housing discrimination cases are a denial that they were ever contacted by a prospective tenant or a denial that housing discrimination ever occurred.
It is important for housing discrimination plaintiffs to immediately start gathering evidence of discrimination after it occurs. This involves both careful record-keeping and prompt action.
Gather together the evidence
The first step to take, if you are the victim of housing discrimination, is to document all contacts and communications made with the potential defendants, including what was said, who said it, the witnesses, and the date. This is important because the exact language and wording used by a property owner or real estate agent may be determinative of whether housing discrimination occurred.
Phone records should be obtained, if applicable, to serve as evidence of the phone calls that were made and received by the parties. Emails and letters, to the extent they exist, should also be saved and printed out.
It is important for a housing discrimination plaintiff to save the advertisement for the subject property in order to show that it was publicly advertised.
In short, if you have suffered from housing discrimination, you should put together all of the relevant evidence as soon as possible after the event occurred and make that evidence as comprehensive as possible.
Since housing discrimination often involves a contest between competing allegations—a "he-said, she-said" analysis—housing discrimination “testers” are often employed to ferret out illegal housing discrimination.
Testers are individuals who will call property owners and real estate agents who have been accused of discrimination. Frequently, one tester will represent him or herself as a member of the protected category that was discriminated against, while another tester will pretend to be an applicant who does not fall into that category. If housing discrimination occurs during testing, this can serve as extremely valuable evidence that the plaintiff was discriminated against. This is especially the case in New York housing discrimination cases, because unlike some other states, New York allows parties to record phone conversations without the consent of the other party.
Fair Housing Justice Center is a non-profit entity that conducts housing discrimination testing in New York. We have worked in conjunction with the center using testers in a housing discrimination case on behalf of a family with children who were denied the rental of a Brooklyn apartment.
If you have suffered from housing discrimination in New York City, you can contact New York City housing discrimination attorney Eric Dinnocenzo at (212) 933-1675 for a free consultation.