Housing Advocacy Group Can Sue NY Landlords for Source of Income Discrimination

A nonprofit housing group sued real estate agents, brokerage firms, property management companies, and landlords, claiming intentional and willful source of income discrimination in violation of New York City and New York State Human Rights Laws.

After using testers to investigate, the group found that the defendants refused to accept CityFHEPS vouchers for apartment rentals. The group claimed that it was injured by having to expend resources to investigate and to respond to these discriminatory practices.

To qualify for CityFHEPS vouchers, prospective tenants must have a gross income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The household must include a veteran who’s at risk of homelessness, or the NYC Department of Social Services must determine that a CityFHEPS voucher is required to avoid shelter entry, or the household must be facing eviction and includes someone who lived in a shelter and has an active adult protective services case or would otherwise be eligible. The group claimed that rents charged for the units in question didn't exceed the CityFHEPS program's maximum allowable rents.

The court denied the landlords’ request to dismiss the case. The landlords pointed to a prior, similar case the group commenced against other landlords that had been dismissed by a court. But that case was dismissed due to a lack of standing and not on the merits. So the group wasn't barred from proceeding in this case.

The complaint in this case contained detailed allegations in support of the group's claims. The group also proposed to amend its complaint, which the court agreed to, in order to list other particular injuries. The group argued that the defendants' discrimination led to a reduction in available safe and affordable housing, which led to increased demand and need for city resources.

New York State's Division of Human Rights also states that housing advocacy organizations can file a complaint about any discriminatory policy or practice of a housing provider. And, to the extent the landlords and other defendants may dispute whether the diversion of resources gave the group "standing," this was a question that required a trial on the facts.

The court also found that the group's use of fictitious applicants was no bar to its claims because the defendants' complete refusal to deal with any applicants using a CityFHEPS voucher removed the need for the group to plead specific violations. The court ruled that the defendants must answer the complaint and appear in court for a preliminary conference [Housing Rights Initiative, Inc. v. Elliman: Index No. 154472/2022, 2023 NY Slip Op 31496(U)(Sup. Ct. NY; 5/2/23)].