NY Real Estate Firms Settle Allegations of Discrimination Against Section 8 Voucher Holders

June 22, 2016
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Three real estate brokerage firms operating in New York City, Nassau County, and Westchester County recently settled fair housing claims alleging discrimination against prospects with Section 8 housing vouchers, according to a recent announcement by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Local regulations prohibit housing discrimination based on lawful source of income, including government vouchers.

The Attorney General’s office launched the investigation based on a complaint that one of the companies, which manages properties throughout Manhattan and the Bronx, rejected a prospect with a Section 8 voucher. According to the prospect, he was initially told that the company would not accept “programs,” but after he protested, he was told that it would accept Section 8, but there was a months’-long waitlist for the unit.

Based on the complaint, the Attorney General’s office conducted undercover phone tests, asking if Section 8 vouchers would be accepted by the company. Allegedly, the testers were told they would be put on a three- to four-month waiting list, but testers who called about the same properties and did not mention Section 8 were told that the units were immediately available. According to the Attorney General’s office, a manager later testified that the wait list was essentially used to reject unwanted prospects.

Compliance testing was also conducted at two other realty companies. One listed properties in Westchester and New York City; the other was a national firm, the fourth largest real estate company in the nation, which listed properties in Nassau County. Allegedly, representatives at each company told undercover testers that Section 8 and other government assistance programs would not be accepted at certain properties.

Under the settlements, the companies agreed to pay a combined total of $88,000 in fines and penalties. They also agreed to certain reforms, including new non-discriminatory policies and recordkeeping requirements.

“Turning away individuals from an apartment based on a lawful source of income is a blatant form of discrimination,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. “Everyone deserves a fair shot at renting an apartment in New York—especially during a time when many are struggling to find affordable housing. We will not let unscrupulous companies create unlawful barriers to renters, and my office is committed to ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income.”