When electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate Mahdin Mahboob came to Stony Brook University last August, he started looking for off-campus housing that he could afford on his salary as a teaching assistant.
Mahboob, who is from Bangladesh, found a lead on a room but said he was denied the rental because he is not East Asian.
The landlord was contacted for this story, but did not comment, stating she did not understand the request for comment. The Statesman is choosing to withhold the name of the landlord mentioned in this story in order to grant anonymity to a tenant of that landlord.
Mahboob said he sent the same landlord multiple text messages after receiving her phone number from a current tenant, and received the message “I only speak Chinese” as an explanation as to why he would be denied an available room. The tenant told him that the owner cannot speak English.
Mahboob is not the only Stony Brook student facing this issue. Other SBU students claimed to have been denied off-campus housing, allegedly due to a language barrier, but said they did not report it for different reasons.
“Landlords may not refuse to rent to, renew the lease of, or otherwise discriminate against any person or group of persons because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, marital status or familial status,” according to the Tenants’ Rights Guide from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. This is expressed in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, otherwise known as the Fair Housing Act.
The tenant, a junior biology major who wanted to remain anonymous due to concerns of being kicked out of her rental room by her landlord, lives in a house in which the landlord allegedly only takes in tenants who are East Asian, or those that are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian or Vietnamese. The tenant advertised an available room on the Facebook page for Off-Campus Housing. Mahboob said he was denied a room in that house.
The tenant that said although her landlord is not able to communicate fluently in English, previous communications between the landlord and the tenant can be understood.
“I found it really weird,” Mahboob said. “I haven’t seen this before. I mean, this university generally is very diverse so…renting out rooms or houses to students, to say, ‘I prefer only certain ethnicities?’ It’s not a good idea.”
Mahboob said he eventually found a room to rent and moved in December.
“I could have moved off-campus sooner if I hadn’t been in this situation,” he said.
When asked if he considered reporting the landlord, Mahboob said he did not because he later found a rental.
“Even if I did report it, I don’t know what benefit it would have done to me,” he said. “I don’t even know where to report it. The housing office or the police? I don’t know.”
Alvin Mdachi, a sophomore technological systems management major from Kenya, said he faced a similar struggle in his search for a place off campus.
He said he started looking for a place to stay at the end of the fall 2014 semester at Stony Brook, having studied at SUNY Korea the year before. Two days after joining an unofficial off-campus housing group for Stony Brook students on Facebook, he said he found someone offering a room for the entire winter break for $500. He saw the room in person, but later received a message that the landlord wanted a Chinese tenant, he said.
The Facebook group is not connected with the university’s housing and apartment listings, according to Emily Resnick, assistant director of Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living.
The Facebook group is where Stony Brook students can leave posts if they are looking for rooms to rent or advertise available rooms. The advertisements often mention price, whether or not utilities are included, the rental duration and distance from the university’s main campus or South P lot.
Mdachi said he contacted another member of the Facebook group, only to have the same happen. He was invited to see the available room and was told the next day that it was too small to add more people, he said. However, he saw the the tenant advertise the same house in the group and decided to comment on the post, “I thought the house is too small so not for lease.”
He said he soon received this message: “So far we [haven’t] rented out the place, but the landlord insists on finding someone Asian.”
Mdachi said this happened to him a third time before he eventually found a place to stay off-campus through a friend.
Mdachi did not report his situation.
“I just never took it so serious,” he wrote. “So I just kept it with me but I shared with some of my friends and they just felt sorry for me.”
He said he never had direct contact with a landlord, he said.
“I never had contact with them, just the renters who were sincere, and they also felt sorry for me.”