Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against N.J. Property Operator

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorPlainfield, N.J.–The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has filed a Fair Housing discrimination lawsuit, on behalf of a former employee and two tenants, against Connolly Properties Inc., a Plainfield, N.J.-based real estate investment firm and apartment operator. The suit is filed under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, enacted to combat organized crime, and is one of the first times both a RICO and a Fair Housing violation have appeared in the same complaint, says Mike Hethmon, general counsel for IRLI.IRLI contends that Connolly Properties intentionally rented apartments to illegal immigrants, laundering the proceeds of the income from these rentals and discriminating against tenants who are U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.Additionally, IRLI alleges that the property operator has segregated tenants based on race, violating the Fair Housing Act. Under RICO, the complaint also asserts that Connolly Properties rents dilapidated units to aliens and that the revenue acquired through these rentals is illegal.This suit is one of several filed under RICO. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security filed a suit against an apartment owner in Kentucky, alleging that the owner was harboring illegal aliens. A federal judge for this case ruled that the owner could plead ignorance of the law as a defense.In the New Jersey case, Connolly Properties still has several weeks to file a defense. While the Fair Housing Act does not prohibit discrimination based solely on a person’s citizenship status, landlords and property managers must apply the same procedures to every applicant.