Black woman sues 35 of NYC’s ritziest realtors for discrimination

Black woman sues NYC ritzy realtor Douglas Elliman and 35 of its agents ‘for failing to help her find low incoming housing,’ including one broker who sniffed ‘I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions’

  • Shaniqua Newkirk filed a lawsuit in a New York City federal court last month against property company Douglas Elliman and its real estate agents 
  • She sent emails to them in June 2021 requesting help finding Section 8 housing, which is a federal government voucher program that helps poor families 
  • Newkirk claimed they violated violated discrimination laws in the Fair Housing Act by failing to respond to her or not providing adequate help 

A black woman has sued a leading real estate company and 35 of its realtors for discrimination after allegedly failing to help her find low income housing.

Shaniqua Newkirk filed the lawsuit in a New York City federal court last month against Douglas Elliman and its agents over claims they violated discrimination laws in the Fair Housing Act.

She sent emails to the luxury realtors in June 2021 requesting help to find Section 8 housing, which is a federal government voucher program that helps poor families, the elderly or the disabled afford housing in the private market.

But Newkirk claims the agents either failed to respond or did not provide adequate help.

She claims Douglas Elliman realtor 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 strenuously denied the allegations in a statement that said: ‘We will be challenging the merits of these predatory and baseless claims.’

Realtor Noble Black

Realtor Holly Parker

Shaniqua Newkirk claims Douglas Elliman realtor Madeline Hult Elghanayan (pictured) told her 'I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions' while others did not know what a Section 8 housing voucher was

Newkirk filed the lawsuit in a New York City federal court last month against property company Douglas Elliman and its real estate agents over claims they violated discrimination laws in the Fair Housing Act

Newkirk said when she tried to find agents to help her use her Section 8 voucher in spring but drew a blank.

She then found a list of New York City’s most successful agents and brokers who she contacted for support.

However, ‘Newkirk was unable to secure alternative housing prior to the expiration of her voucher,’ according to the lawsuit.

It added that she was ‘forced to remain in a decrepit rodent and vermin-infested apartment’.

The lawsuit lists Douglas Elliman agents 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 help Newkirk.

Elghanayan and Jennifer Kalish as well as former employees Tamir Shemesh and Tal and Oren Alexander were also named in the suit.

In one of the messages included in the complaint, Elghanayan told Newkirk: ‘I only specialize in luxury real estate transactions and don’t even know what sec 8 means..’

Fellow realtor Johnson asked her: ‘I really don’t know what Sec 8 voucher is?’

While Kalish said: ‘At this moment I don’t have any landlords or owners that are accepting Section 8. But I will keep you in mind if anything comes to mind.’

The suit also claims Douglas Elliman is in violation of city laws which require it to ‘prominently and conspicuously’ display a link to the Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination notice on its website.

‘Only at the very end of the homepage in tiny font under the heading of State Disclosures is a link to the Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination Notice,’ it states.

‘Defendants are more concerned with their luxury brand than they are with following the law.’

‘I basically was named for not responding to an email,’ realtor Srugo told The Real Deal. ‘And when I search my inbox, I don’t have any record of ever receiving it.’

Documents submitted by Newkirk show she sent emails her on June 14 and June 15, 2021 but received no response.

Douglas Elliman agent Frances Katzen

Douglas Elliman agent Elana Schoppmann

Newkirk sent emails to Douglas Elliman realtors in June 2021 requesting help to find Section 8 housing, which is a federal government voucher program that helps poor families, the elderly or the disabled afford housing in the private market.

Real estate agents who did not answer include Douglas Elliman employees Jane Powers, Neal Sroka, Joshua Lieberman, Rachel Medalie, Elena Sarkissian, Katzen, Muss, Bruce Erhmann and Eileen Hsu.

Former realtors Sarah Burke, who now works for Compass, and the Alexander brothers, who left to start their own company called Official, were also listed as not replying.

Another Cybele Kadagian, who now works with Sotheby’s, offered to help Newkirk but she did not respond to her email.

She wrote: ‘Yes, landlords do accept Section 8. I do not currently have any of these apts. What are you willing to spend and 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 are you looking to spend?’

Newkirk highlighted that she was looking for a one-bedroom flat and her voucher was for up to $1,705 per month but the agent did not reply to that email or a follow up.

She also asked Parker if she had any apartments that would take on Section 8 vouchers but Parker responded: ‘I’m sorry but I don’t have access to those.’

Jason Walker, Emily Sertic and Andrew Azoulay, who works at Bespoke, told Newkirk they did not have any listings that were accepting vouchers. 

Lenane told her: ‘I wish that I could help you but I know that Section 8 housing right now it’s so hard to find and I never deal with it at all but good luck with your search.’

Licensed Douglas Elliman brokers 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 executive vice president of residential leasing Hal D. Gavzie are also named in the lawsuit. 

‘Douglas Elliman has a zero tolerance policy towards unfair and illegal treatment of any individual or group,’ a spokesman for Douglas Elliman said. 

‘We pride ourselves on our mandatory agent training program that is inclusive of rigorous fair housing law education.’

Former employees Tamir Shemesh, who left for Nest Seekers, was named in the suit and initially responded to Newkirk but did not reply to another email or a follow up, according to the lawsuit

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, are said to have not responded to Newkirk

Douglas Elliman denied the allegations in a statement and said: 'We will be challenging the merits of these predatory and baseless claims'

Craig Gurian, an attorney who specializes in fair housing, said violations are judged on whether the agents respond to a person the same way they normally would with another client.

Realtors who told Newkirk they did not have apartments which qualify for Section 8 or said they did not work in that sector could be found guilty of a violation for not referring her to a colleague who does.

Those who did not reply could also be found to have violated fair housing laws if it is found they would respond to other client inquiries.

Douglas Elliman was previously named in an investigation on fair housing violations on Long Island.

A report in 2019 outlined pervasive discrimination against people of color who posed as property buyers. It triggered a state probe where 67 agents and executives were issued with subpoenas.

Some of the cases against agents did not hold up but the state passed legislation in 2020 which allowed the government to take away real estate licenses for discrimination.

New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development revealed in March that it will spend $3.1million to prevent source-of-income discrimination.

This is where owners or brokers turn tenants away for wanting to pay with vouchers or other assistance.

Dailymail.com has contacted Douglas Elliman and Newkirk’s attorney Steven Siegel for comment.

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