A Black woman has sued a leading real estate company and 35 of its agents for discrimination after they allegedly failed to help her find low-income housing.
Shaniqua Newkirk filed the lawsuit against Douglas Elliman and his agents in a federal court in New York City last month over claims that they violated the discrimination laws of the Fair Housing Act.
She sent emails to the luxury real estate agents in June 2021 asking for help finding Section 8 housing, a federal government voucher program that helps poor families, the elderly or disabled afford housing in the private market.
But Newkirk claims the officers either did not respond or did not provide sufficient assistance.
She claims Douglas Elliman real estate agent Madeline Hult Elghanayan told her, “I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions,” while others did not know what a Section 8 housing voucher was.
Douglas Elliman strongly denied the allegations in a statement that said, “We will contest the validity of these predatory and baseless claims.”
A Black woman has sued a leading real estate company and its agents, including Noble Black (left) and Holly Parker (right), for discrimination after allegedly failing to help her find low-income housing
Shaniqua Newkirk claims Douglas Elliman real estate agent Madeline Hult Elghanayan (pictured) told her, ‘I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions,’ while others didn’t know what a Section 8 housing voucher was
Newkirk filed the lawsuit last month in a federal court in New York City against real estate company Douglas Elliman and its brokers over claims that they violated the discrimination laws of the Fair Housing Act.
Newkirk said when she tried to find officers to help her use her Section 8 voucher in the spring but didn’t put anything in.
She then found a list of New York City’s most successful agents and brokers whom she contacted for support.
“However, Newkirk was unable to obtain alternative housing before her voucher expired,” the lawsuit said.
It added that she was “forced to stay in a dilapidated apartment infested with rodents and vermin.”
The lawsuit names Douglas Elliman officers Noble Black, Holly Parker, Frances Katzen, Lauren Muss, Elana Schoppmann, Diane Johnson, Eleonora Srugo, Ann Cutbill Lenane and Janna Raskopf as those who failed to assist Newkirk.
Elghanayan and Jennifer Kalish, as well as former employees Tamir Shemesh and Tal and Oren Alexander, were also named in the lawsuit.
In one of the messages in the complaint, Elghanayan told Newkirk, “I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions and don’t even know what sec 8 means.”
Fellow broker Johnson asked her, “I really don’t know what a Sec 8 voucher is?”
While Kalish said: “At this time I do not have any landlords or owners who accept Section 8. But I’ll think of you when something comes to mind.’
The lawsuit also alleges that Douglas Elliman violates city laws that require him to “prominently and conspicuously” post a link to the Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination notice on his website.
“Only at the very end of the home page, in small print, under the heading State Disclosures, is a link to the Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination Notice,” it says.
“Defendants are more concerned about their luxury brand than about following the law.”
“I was actually cited for not responding to an email,” real estate agent Srugo said The real deal. “And when I search my inbox, I have no evidence that I ever received it.”
Documents filed by Newkirk show she sent her emails on June 14 and 15, 2021, but received no response.
The lawsuit names Douglas Elliman agent Frances Katzen (left) and Elana Schoppmann (right) as those who failed to help Newkirk
Newkirk sent emails to Douglas Elliman real estate agents in June 2021 asking for help finding Section 8 housing, a federal government voucher program that helps poor families, the elderly or disabled afford housing in the private market.
Real estate agents who did not respond include Douglas Elliman contributors Jane Powers, Neal Sroka, Joshua Lieberman, Rachel Medalie, Elena Sarkissian, Katzen, Muss, Bruce Erhmann and Eileen Hsu.
Former real estate agents Sarah Burke, who now works for Compass, and the Alexander brothers, who left to start their own company called Official, were also listed as non-responding.
Another Cybele Kadagian, who now works for Sotheby’s, offered to help Newkirk, but she did not respond to her email.
She wrote: ‘Yes, landlords accept Article 8. I don’t currently own any of these apartments. What are you prepared to spend and in what area?’
Shemesh, who left for Nest Seekers, said: “Of course we are willing to help. How many bedrooms are you looking for and how much do you want to spend?’
Newkirk emphasized that she was looking for a one-bedroom apartment and that her voucher was worth up to $1,705 per month, but the agent did not respond to that email or any follow-up.
She also asked Parker if she had any apartments that were eligible for Section 8 vouchers, but Parker replied, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have access to those.”
Jason Walker, Emily Sertic and Andrew Azoulay, who work at Bespoke, told Newkirk they had no listings accepting vouchers.
Lenane told her, “I wish I could help you, but I know it’s so hard to find housing in Section 8 right now and I never have to deal with it at all, but good luck in your search. ‘
Licensed Douglas Elliman real estate agents Kari Kaplan, Wendy E. Sanders, Lauren Litt, Jaqueline Teplitzky, Andrew Anderson and Suzan Kremer are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
Company executives, including general counsel Kenneth Haber, Long Island CEO Ann Conroy and Hal D. Gavzie, executive vice president of residential leasing, are also named in the lawsuit.
“Douglas Elliman has a zero-tolerance policy toward unfair and illegal treatment of any individual or group,” a spokesperson for Douglas Elliman said.
“We are proud of our mandatory real estate agent training program, which includes rigorous fair housing law training.”
Former employee Tamir Shemesh, who left for Nest Seekers, was named in the lawsuit and initially responded to Newkirk but did not respond to another email or a follow-up, the lawsuit said
Realtor Lauren Muss is listed as one of the agents who did not respond to Newkirk’s inquiry
Oren and Tal Alexander, who left to start their own company called Official, reportedly did not respond to Newkirk
Douglas Elliman denied the allegations in a statement, saying: ‘We will contest the merits of these predatory and baseless claims’
Craig Gurian, an attorney who specializes in fair housing, said violations are judged based on whether officers respond to a person in the same way they normally would to another client.
Brokers who told Newkirk they didn’t have apartments that qualified for Section 8 or said they didn’t work in that industry could be found guilty of a violation for not referring her to a colleague who did.
Those who did not respond could also be found to have violated fair housing laws if they were found to have responded to other customer questions.
Douglas Elliman was previously named in an investigation into fair housing violations on Long Island.
A 2019 report outlined widespread discrimination against people of color posing as real estate buyers. It led to a state investigation in which 67 officers and executives were issued subpoenas.
Some cases against officers did not hold up, but the state passed legislation in 2020 that allowed the government to revoke real estate licenses for discrimination.
New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development announced in March that it will spend $3.1 million to prevent income discrimination.
This is where owners or agents turn away tenants because they want to pay with vouchers or other assistance.
Dailymail.com has contacted Douglas Elliman and Newkirk’s attorney Steven Siegel for comment.