Settlement Provides Justice to Victims of Racially Discriminatory Code Enforcement
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced a major settlement in the case of Long Island Housing Services, Inc. v. Village of Mastic Beach (EDNY). This case against the Village of Mastic Beach, New York and Timothy Brojer, the former Village Administrator of Mastic Beach, challenged code enforcement actions of the defendants that were alleged to discriminatorily target African-American renters and their landlords in violation of their constitutional rights. The Lawyers’ Committee co-counseled the lawsuit with Cooley LLP, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and the non-profit organization Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS). Under the terms of the settlement, the Village of Mastic Beach will pay $387,500 to the plaintiffs, who include six individual tenants and two landlords.
The Lawyers’ Committee and Cooley LLP filed the lawsuit in 2015 after LIHS contacted them with the results of their investigation into complaints of aggressive code enforcement targeting African-American renters and landlords. Specifically, Village of Mastic Beach Code Enforcement officials had evicted several African-American tenants who receive housing subsidies, citing minor housing code violations, without providing lawful notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to the eviction. Village officials routinely ordered tenants to walk away from their homes and belongings with only a few hours’ notice. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that this conduct violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, among other laws.
“This settlement sends a strong message to municipalities on Long Island and across the country that attempts to use code enforcement to push people of color out of their communities will not be tolerated,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Communities must think twice before throwing residents out of their homes and into the street.”
“It is critical to champion the needs of those less fortunate and unfairly targeted so as to protect their inalienable rights and ensure access to justice,” said Joe Drayton, partner at Cooley LLP, lead counsel and member of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Board of Trustees. “This settlement has helped to heal the wounds experienced by our clients as a result of the Village’s unlawful acts.”
Plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that the decision of Mastic Beach residents to incorporate the Village in 2010 stemmed in large part from animus toward the community’s growing African American population; incorporation advocates seized upon aggressive code enforcement as a strategy for driving out African American tenants receiving rental assistance. But the Village proved short-lived. In November 2016, Mastic Beach voters dissolved the Village, effective December 31, 2017.
“Our country thrives when individuals who receive rental assistance are able to access housing in the neighborhoods of their choice,” said Joe Rich, Co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing & Community Development Project. “Municipal policies and practices that deny families with rental assistance the right to live in certain places are likely to violate the Fair Housing Act.”
“The horrendous governmental abuse of authority revealed through LIHS’ investigation is deeply disturbing. LIHS will continue to aggressively monitor municipalities to ensure full compliance with local, state and federal Fair Housing laws,” said Michelle Santantonio, Executive Director of Long Island Housing Services. “LIHS is committed to assisting victims of discrimination to challenge practices that violate their rights. Long Island municipalities would do well to learn from the cautionary tale of Mastic Beach.”
Under the terms of the settlement, until dissolution of the Village is finalized, the Village is required to comply with the local, state and federal civil rights laws.
“Racially-motivated housing code enforcement is one of the most insidious forms of discrimination because it is often difficult to ferret out those responsible and hold them accountable,” said Brian Corman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “We are pleased that the settlement brings a measure of justice to those unfairly evicted or otherwise targeted because of their race.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee:
The Lawyers’ Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
About Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS)
LIHS is a nationally recognized Fair Housing agency serving both Nassau and Suffolk counties. We are unique in our multifaceted services and unparalleled in our commitment to fair housing advocacy and enforcement. LIHS’ mission is the elimination of unlawful discrimination and promotion of decent and affordable housing through advocacy and education. Founded in 1969, Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (www.LIFairHousing.org) is a private, nonprofit HUD-qualified Fair Housing Enforcement Organization and a HUD -approved Housing Counseling agency. Its work is supported in part by HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program for Private Enforcement.
About Cooley LLP
Clients partner with Cooley on transformative deals, complex IP and regulatory matters, and high-stakes litigation, where innovation meets the law. Cooley has 900 lawyers across 12 offices in the United States, China and Europe.
About Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC
Founded in 1969, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC (www.cohenmilstein.com) is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation, including representation of those subject to unlawful bias in the workplace or who have been denied housing on the basis of race, national origin, religion, age, disability and sex, including sexual orientation and identity. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., and Raleigh, N.C.
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