A resident of the Sky luxury apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen has filed a complaint against her landlord with the city’s Human Rights Commission, accusing the building’s management of failing to address ongoing racist harassment from her neighbor.
Deborah Heard, 60, has lived at the Moinian Group-managed Sky building on West 42nd Street since 2016, in one of the building’s affordable housing units. Last year, a man moved into the apartment next to hers and started harassing her and other residents with racist slurs, her complaint said.
It started around March 2nd, when at 3 a.m., according to the complaint, “her neighbor left notes on multiple doors on the 18th floor—where Ms. Heard lives—stating, ‘To all you people who smoke in the building, I hope you die.’ He left a similar message on Ms. Heard’s door stating, “All you Black people really need to stop smoking.” Heard claims the neighbor also filed a report that she was smoking, though Heard is not a smoker.
In April, Heard asked him to stop banging on their shared walls and he called her “the n-word and said that “n-words, sp-cs, and Asians should go back to where they came from,” according to the complaint.
He allegedly left racist graffiti on the door of the garbage room in May as well, and continued to call her racist slurs when he saw her in the building, Heard said. She emailed management six times from March through May about the neighbor’s harassment and never received help even though the building’s staff also witnessed some of the incidents, she said.
“Every time I send an email to management about this tenant when his racist comments towards me, they just ignore it,” Heard said in a phone interview with Gothamist on Wednesday. “And it’s been going on, and it’s continuing to go on.”
The neighbor has remained in the building, she said. “I want [the landlord] to acknowledge that this tenant is a problem and they’re just choosing to ignore it. They are responsible for this tenant, and his actions,” she said. “I have a right to live there without being harassed by this tenant.”
The harassment has made her feel unsafe in her home, Heard explained.
“I have to look behind me,” she said. “I go outside and I turn around and he’s behind me.”
The alleged lack of response from the management compelled her to contact the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington D.C.
“White tenants without rental subsidies, like Ms. Heard’s neighbor, are permitted to engage in severe racial harassment without any repercussion whatsoever,” the complaint said. “By ignoring the concerns and complaints of tenants of color and/or tenants with rental subsidies, but addressing the concerns of other tenants, the Moinian Group is treating those groups of tenants less well for discriminatory reasons.”
“We believe it raises liability under federal civil rights law, including the federal Fair Housing Act, which says that all citizens have the right to enjoy access to the property,” said her lawyer Arusha Gordon.
Asked why Heard is not pursuing legal action against the neighbor, Gordon said, “Sky really has a responsibility here to address the harassment in their own building” and there’s legal precedent that landlords have an obligation to respond to discriminatory activity on their property.
A representative of the Moinian Group did not immediately comment on Heard’s allegations.