Housing Rights Groups File Suit Against RE Firms for Discrimination Against Section 8 Tenants
John Jordan | March 15, 2021
NEW YORK—As a result of a year-long probe, the Housing Rights Initiative, The Legal Aid Society and the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Handley Farah & Anderson filed a federal lawsuit today against a total of 88 landlords, real estate managers and brokers for illegally discriminating against low-income tenants with Housing Choice vouchers in New York City.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of HRI in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.
In New York City and New York State it is illegal for brokers and landlords to reject prospective tenants for using rental assistance. In response to complaints it has received over the years, HRI deployed investigators who recorded hundreds of phone calls while presenting themselves as prospective tenants with Section 8 vouchers, in order to determine if brokers and landlords would accept vouchers as they are required to do by law. HRI’s investigation uncovered that in nearly 50% of cases, real estate professionals illegally refused to rent to voucher holders, HRI officials stated.
The tests were conducted on properties throughout Manhattan and in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative, said that a total of 477 tests were conducted as part of the investigation.
The lawsuit notes that New Yorkers with a Housing Choice Voucher are disproportionately likely to be Black or Hispanic, and those who are disabled, compared to New Yorkers without vouchers. About 82% of New Yorkers with Housing Choice Vouchers are Black or Hispanic, compared with 50% of New Yorkers without vouchers who are Black or Hispanic.
The lawsuit is calling for the real estate management and brokerage companies named in the court action to abandon their discriminatory housing practices and make apartments available to voucher holders in compliance with the Fair Housing Act and New York State and City Human Rights Law, among other laws, including New York City’s Source of Income law.
“We all know the cliché, ‘there’s no place like home,’ but for countless families in New York City and across the country, there is no home, because real estate companies are refusing to rent to them.” said HRI’s Carr. “This investigation didn’t target any one real estate company, it targeted an entire real estate sector. This probe will go down as one of the most comprehensive investigations into real estate discrimination since the enactment of the Fair Housing Act, and we are just getting started.”
“Not only are landlord and broker policies and practices against renting to Section 8 voucher holders discriminatory and illegal, refusing to rent to a voucher holder makes the program less effective overall. It also compounds racial segregation and stereotypes,” said U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY-7).
Robert Desir, staff attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said: “This investigation and lawsuit demonstrate that despite laws clearly prohibiting these practices, discrimination based on source of income, race and disability remains a persistent problem for low-income New Yorkers who are stigmatized and excluded when simply trying to escape homelessness, substandard housing and areas of low opportunity. Through litigation, we hope to hold these bad actors accountable, and force these harmful practices to stop once and for all.”