DSS Source of Income Discrimination Unit Files First Two Cases

The newly formed Department of Social Services (DSS) Source of Income Discrimination Unit recently filed its first two cases against New York City landlords in New York State Supreme Court for discrimination based on source of income. Part of the mayor’s Turning the Tide plan to address the citywide challenge of homelessness, the DSS Source of Income Discrimination Unit was created in 2017 to combat illegal practices that prevent New Yorkers from securing housing opportunities. The unit takes decisive legal action on behalf of renters utilizing government assistance by intervening whenever and wherever those seeking housing may encounter barriers in the housing process, from inquiry and application through lease signing.

In New York City, it’s illegal for landlords or real estate brokers to refuse to rent to current or prospective tenants who use any form of public assistance to pay their rents, including Section 8, Living in Communities (LINC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), City Family Eviction Prevention Supplement Program (CITYFEPS), and Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) assistance, among others. It’s also unlawful for landlords and housing agents to publish any type of advertisements refusing to accept these programs, including online or print.

In the first case, City of New York v. St. Marks Hamilton LLC and Oxford Realty Group LLC, the property management company told multiple callers seeking housing that vouchers were not accepted at the Staten Island apartment complex. In the second case, City of New York v. Everton Campbell, Atlas Realty Associates, Inc., DSS initiated an investigation that found advertisements containing discriminatory language for units located in the Bronx being published on multiple real estate websites including apartmentfinder.com, hotpads.com and apartments.com. The discriminatory language included such phrases as: “NOT ACCEPTING ANY VOUCHERS,” “NO VOUCHERS ARE BEING ACCEPTED FOR THIS APARTMENT,” and “THIS APARTMENT IS NOT ACCEPTING ANY VOUCHERS.”

The DSS Source of Income Discrimination Unit works to prevent and prosecute instances of housing discrimination based on lawful source of income via a multi-pronged approach that includes education and outreach, pre-complaint intervention, investigations, and filing and prosecuting complaints on behalf of the city alleging a pattern or practice of source of income discrimination. Since its creation in 2017, the unit has responded to more than 50 referrals of possible SOI discrimination, including successful interventions that reversed:

  • Landlord refusals to accept security vouchers from applicants;
  • A management company’s decision to reject electronic rental payments mandated by HRA’s HOME Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program; and
  • A co-op board’s decision to deny a sublet to a voucher holder; and reversed a management company’s refusal to rent to a HASA program client.

The source-of-income provisions of the NYC Human Rights Law were enacted in 2008. The law applies to landlords who own any building in NYC with at least six units and the brokers and others who represent them. It also protects tenants subject to rent control laws who reside in buildings that contain five or fewer units.