NYC Human Rights Commission Charges Five Owners with Source of Income Discrimination
The NYC Commission on Human Rights recently announced five complaints filed against large owners and brokerage firms for repeatedly refusing to accept housing vouchers. The complaints allege discrimination against prospective tenants based on their lawful source of income, a violation of the NYC Human Rights Law. The complaints followed investigations proactively conducted by the commission and were the results of tips from prospective tenants and the commission’s testing program, which was revitalized in 2016. The program has performed more than 300 tests for source of income housing discrimination citywide and expects to file more cases against large owners and brokers in the months ahead.
The commission’s complaints charge the owners and brokerage firms with “pattern or practice” discrimination for repeatedly refusing to accept prospective tenants’ government assistance housing vouchers, including Section 8 and Living in Communities (LINC) vouchers. The owners and brokerage firms involved in these investigations have been notified of the alleged violations and the commission continues its investigation.
“New York City does not tolerate any type of housing discrimination, plain and simple,” said Mayor de Blasio. “No owner should get away with turning away tenants because they use government assistance to pay rent, which is why we have significantly increased enforcement efforts to fight this form of discrimination and are working to ensure that everyone using housing vouchers can find and retain safe and affordable housing. These investigations are just a few of many that the commission is investigating to root out bad acting owners and hold them accountable.”
It has been illegal in New York City to discriminate against tenants based on lawful source of income since 2008, when then Councilmember de Blasio sponsored a bill to make it a violation of the NYC Human Rights Law. Lawful source of income includes any federal, state, or local public or housing assistance given towards the payment of rent, including Section 8, Living in Communities (LINC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS), Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS), and Advantage program vouchers, among others. It is also unlawful for owners and housing agents to publish any type advertisements, including online or print, that indicate a refusal to accept these programs.
In the course of its investigations, the commission found that these large owners and brokers repeatedly denied apartments to prospective tenants and testers citing that tenants “did not meet the necessary income requirements” to rent, despite having housing vouchers that covered the rent, or flatly refused to accept housing vouchers at all, both clear violations of the law. For example, one prospective tenant was told the owner “accepted everything except LINC vouchers,” while another was told the owner doesn’t accept any housing assistance vouchers at all. One tester was denied an apartment after asking whether the owner accepted Section 8 vouchers. An agent told her “no, we do not” accept vouchers and “that was the first thing you were supposed to tell me” before hanging up.
The commission has the ability to fine owners and brokers and award aggrieved tenants compensatory damages, including emotional distress damages, rent abatements, and other benefits, and is the only city agency with the power to prosecute owners and brokers for voucher discrimination. Last year, the commission fined one owner $100,000 in civil penalties for refusing to show a prospective tenant an apartment after he revealed he had a Section 8 voucher.